Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Berlin again

Our next movie takes us back to everybody's favorite spy capital, Berlin: Night People, at 8:00 AM ET February 4 on the Fox Movie Channel.

Gregory Peck stars as Col. Steve Van Dyke, a World War II army veteran now working in military intelligence in the Berlin of 1954. It's divided, but the Wall has of course not yet gone up. So, it's not too difficult for Soviets, or other people, to cause mischief in various sectors of the city. Somebody does just this by kidnapping a young corporal to ransom. It's Peck's job to get the corporal back.

Unfortunately, there are several things complicating matters. First is the fact that the Soviets, or whoever it is they're backing, want to exchange people, not money. And these are people who are walking around Berlin free, not prisoners. Worse, though, is that the young corporal's father has flown in from America. The father (Broderick Crawford) is a powerful industrialist who is prepared to do almost anything to get his son back, consequences be damned.

Also complicating things is a series of spy-thriller clich├ęs: the dark cellars where some key scenes take place; the pointless love interest for Peck; the female spy who seems to have a thing for Peck, too; the people to be exchanged having a secret past of their own, and identities other than who they're supposed to be; the comic-relief buddy (played by Buddy Ebsen); the atmospheric scenes of Berlin, and so on. The last of these ought to be the best, but the movie is too set-bound. The movie was filmed in Germany, but unfortunately doesn't use enough of the locations.

The biggest flaw, however, is the ending. Screenwriter Nunnally Johnson wrote a lot of good screenplays during his 35 years at Fox, but it seems that when it comes to Night People, he couldn't figure out how to end it. So, he simply comes up with something very abrupt, a something that strains credulity, even for the spy-thriller genre.

Still, Gregory Peck is interesting to watch, and the few location shots there are get the benefit of Fox's Cinemascope lenses, plus Technicolor. Night People is by no means the best of the genre, but it's not terrible, either. It also isn't on DVD, so you'll have to catch one of the showings on the Fox Movie Channel.

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