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THE DEVIL'S GENERAL

Germany, 1955 (MIFF 1958, Programme 1)

Director: Helmut Keutner

The Devil's General, made in 1955, has won several Festival awards; it unites many of West Germany's leading talents of today &ndash: the director, Helmut Kautner; the stars, Curd Jiirgens and Marianne Koch; the production company, Real Studios - - in a work of high technical quality.

The film is a fascinating drama of conscience; the awakening, too late, to a truer set of values. An ace Luftwaffe pilot towards the end of the war, after a brilliant career as a dedicated Nazi, becomes aware of the evils of his regime. His subsequent psychological conflict, and his means of resolving it, has been played out now on die stage in most of Europe's leading cities. But its drama assumes a particular potency when interpreted by its native cast with their full grasp of its background and significance.

"The film of The Devil's General succeeds for three basic reasons. First there is no denying the expertness with which it is made. Kautner's direction drives the exciting narrative forward deftly and emphatically. Not a foot of film is wasted, not a gesture is misjudged; melodrama, except in the last sequence, is dexterously skirted. The acting is always more than competent; Viktor de Kowa's S.S. Chief has just the right sort of terrifying charm, Marianne Koch gives the ingenue a touching sincerity . . . and Curd Jiirgens beautifully articulates the humane confusions of a soldier nation. The well written speech on the subject of Race addressed by Harras to the ardent young Nazi officer is superbly given.

But the real achievement of Kautner and his scriptwriter, Georg Hurdalek, lies in their evocation of the atmosphere of Nazi Berlin. They seem to have worked towards this from two directions (wisely cutting out the tiresome American journalist of the play): they have analysed the experience with a historian's tranquility, giving to it some of the perspective of a period piece; and at the same time they have relived the whole emotional situation with the understanding of fellow Germans. There emerges something true, the feel of upper-middle-class wartime Berlin with all its gaiety, sentimentality and latent hysteria. One listens for an air raid alarm that does not come, one is always aware of the inexorable return to battle, one senses the terror of arrest.

The third virtue of this film for us is that it is made by Germans about themselves, dispassionately and without self-pity, with understanding and yet with a muffled, horrified awe of what has happened." (John Eyre in Film 13).

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