“Berlin Express” (1948) starring Merle Oberon, Robert Ryan, Charles Corvin, & Paul Lukas

Trapped on a Train of Terror! -A tagline (on the movie poster)

In a divided Germany (shortly after WWII), passengers from several nations are on a train heading to an international conference. Lucienne (Merle Oberon) is a French secretary who catches the eye of almost every man on the train. Dr. Bernhardt (Paul Lukas) is Lucienne’s German employer. Robert Lindley (Robert Ryan) is an American working for the Dept. of Agriculture. Perrot (Charles Corvin) is a French businessman. Sterling (Robert Coote) is an Englishman. Lt. Maxim Kirosilov is young Soviet soldier. When one of these passengers (working for peace) is kidnapped in Berlin, the others set aside their differences/work together to find him. Would you risk your life to help a stranger, IF it was for the good of the world?

Narrator: [voiceover] That’s right – the dove of peace was a pigeon. A dead pigeon.

The director, Jacques Tourneur, also directed the film noir classic Out of the Past (1947). The cinematographer, Lucien Ballard, was married to Oberon; he came up w/ a lighting technique which hid the scars on Oberon’s face. Cary Grant and John Garfield were considered for roles in this film. This is the 1st Hollywood production in Germany after WWII. The crew was the 1st to receive permission to film in Berlin’s Soviet zone. At the time of production, Berlin was divided into 4 separate sectors, controlled by the English, French, Soviet (now Russian), and American armed forces. American soldiers stationed at the I. G. Farben munitions building in Salzburg, left untouched during bombing raids (so the U.S. could use it as an occupation HQ), appeared in the film as extras.

Perrot: What chance has a European got with an American around?

Lindley: I’m afraid you overestimate us.

Perrot: Huh, not at all. How can we compete with your American charm, your chocolate…

Sterling: Your soap?

Perrot: Your cigarettes?

Lindley: Well, it’s more blessed to give than to receive.

Berlin Express is categorized as a crime drama, film noir, and thriller. It’s an unusual movie for its time; it has an international cast (before that became common) and was filmed on location (in rare/unexpected places). I rarely guessed what was going to happen next! I esp. liked the friendly banter between the 3 men (Lindley, Perrot, and Sterling) who seek the attention of Lucienne (who is NOT easily impressed). Each man has a different personality; it’s refreshing that they behave like gentlemen (instead of pushy jerks). Ryan is looking youngish/handsome and gets to show his charm/confidence in a (rare) good guy role. I’m NOT going to say much more; check this movie out! You can rent it on YouTube.

[1] Tourneur did a grand job in making use of the bombed out locations in Frankfurt where most of the story takes place. It certainly gives authenticity to the story.

[2] Filmed in the rubble of German cities in 1946 this film, basically is a very good and constantly weaving espionage drama; and not unlike NORTH BY NORTHWEST in deception, missing persons, terrific set pieces in ruins and epic visuals of genuine locations. Robert Ryan as the US everyman, all casual but tough, Merle Oberon gives ze Fronnch occent a good go, and a solid cast enjoying a provocative script.

[3] Some of the lines seemed stilted and staged, particularly toward the end, but given the time period when the movie was filmed, not at all surprising. There was a good mix of characters, but the real star of the film is the location: there are wonderful shots of Berlin and Frankfurt right after the war, and the devastation around the characters adds a powerful unspoken dimension to the film.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

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