Wednesday, March 19, 2008


The other night I watched The Good German on my movies on demand cable service.

This followed on nicely from reading A Quiet Flame by Philip Kerr as it had a similar theme.

The guilt of the survivor when so many perished, and the guilt of those who did nothing, or did not do enough.

"If I am truly innocent then I would be dead" a line from the book is similar to a line in the film spoken by Cate Blanchett, who plays Lena Brandt, a Jewish girl married to an SS officer. George Clooney plays the investigative reporter Jake Geismer in an almost detached manner, while Tobey Maguire gives a brilliantly horrible cameo performance as Tully the quintessential "anything for a buck" Yank.
The plot of the film revolves around the search for Emil Brandt, Lena's husband who was involved in the V2 rocket program, but of course the film's message is of American complicity in the terrible bargain struck at Potsdam. The Soviets get Eastern Europe in exchange for the German scientists, who go off to the USA to work on the rocket program even if they had committed terrible war crimes.

The Good German, based on a novel by Joseph Kanon, is an interesting homage to the black and white thrillers of the 1930s and 1940s and apparently it was filmed in colour and then the colour drained out so that the film could be blended in with original black and white footage of war ravaged Berlin and the Potsdam conference.
I said a homage but director Steven Soderbergh takes the film beyond pastiche into parody, and in the closing scene between Clooney and Blanchett at the plane I quite expected Claude Rains and Paul Henreid to pop into the frame.
I got the impression that all that cleverness was more for the director's pleasure than the audience.
But it is quite entertaining, educational and interesting as a historical reconstruction, despite scenes that would never have been allowed in the 1940s.
I think that the main problem is that the actors are just not in the same league as Bogart and Bergman however hard they try, and you feel you are watching an economy class version of Casablanca.


Blogger Philip Amos said...

Evil has a fascination for people, but I have a particular interest in the psychology of altruism, and I have never thought those who commit evil or those who stand by and do nothing nearly as interesting as those who risk their all for others. There is a book that may interest you in this regard, Norm: Samuel P. Oliner and Pearl M. Oliner. The Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe. The Free Press (Macmillan), 1988. It is a fine piece of scholarship grounded in interviews with people who rescued Jews, or tried to, and very thoroughly explores their reasons for doing so. There is just one thing that I don't think the book brings out quite enough. Posing to the rescuers the question "Why did you do it?" naturally elicts reasoned responses -- it is what the question asks for. But the response that struck me most forcibly by far was that of a woman who was a little puzzled by the question -- her response was, how could I not? In her there was at work an innate categorical imperative, the most intriguing altruistic wellspring of all, and I did wonder if this may have also underlay some of the reasoned responses given by others. No small part of the importance of the book is that it implicitly gives guidance as to how kindness, compassion, morality and courage may be nurtured in the present world, which could do with an infusion of all those qualities.

3:20 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

How right you are Philip. I have found the world is divided into those whose only and immediate reaction is to help someone in trouble, and those who stop to analyse the situation and sometimes do nothing.

4:00 PM  

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