Town Without–Whatever

CAUTION: Contains “spoilers.”

“Town Without Pity” is a film noir that doesn’t appear, at first glance, to be a film noir. It starts off as a controversy-film. Four G.I.s stationed in Germany rape a young town girl. It then becomes a courtroom drama. The prosecution is demanding death for the four offenders. The defense attorney attempts to plea-bargain and when his overture is refused, hunkers down to fight a long, dirty fight. But only as the tale unfolds does its truly noir nature reveal itself. No one is especially good. The closest you come to someone with a pure motive is Barbara Rutting’s journalist for a Leftist magazine out to drum up outrage over the presence of G.I.s in Germany so many years after the peace–and things they do on their long drunken weekends. The four G.I.s range from overtly criminal (Frank Sutton’s beefy Sgt. Snyder) to pathetically mixed-up (Robert Blake’s Corporal Larkin). Their victim (Christine Kaufmann in her film debut) is quadruply victimized–by the G.I.s, by the town that sniggers and sneers at her, by her own bull-headed father who forces her to testify against her rapists, by the defense attorney who knows that he must break her down to save his clients from the death penalty. Frank Borgmann (Gerhard Lippert) the young man who man who loves her proves totally ineffectual–knocked cold while trying to prevent her rape, revealed as a “mama’s boy” in the course of the trail, then victimized by his own mother when she sics the police on him after a clumsy attempt at forgery to get money to flee with his traumatized lover. When the boy is arrested by the police, the girl drowns herself and the town without pity has its very own Romeo & Juliet saga.

“Never get involved in a lawsuit” is defense attorney Maj. Steve Garrett’s drunken advice to Rutting’s cynical journalist. Too bad the violated Fraulein Steinhof’s proud papa didn’t listen. He is the town banker and his family has lived in that town for generations–even before there was a United States of America–and he is not about to let a bunch of vulgar Americans back him down and shame him in his own town. He insists that his daughter testify and he bears as much responsibility for her breakdown and subsequent suicide as any American. Hans Neilsen’s head-to-head confrontation with Douglas is one of the film’s dramatic high-points. But Kirk Douglas’ Maj. Garrett is an interesting case as well. He enters the film not in uniform but in mufti, driving a Cadillac convertible the size of a speed-boat–by far the largest auto in the film. He will exit the town in the same manner. But its worth noting that in other films noir, this would be the manner in which a mob hit-man or a prosperous private investigator might enter the story. It’s made clear soon enough that like any stranger in a film noir town, Garrett is neither liked nor welcomed. The villagers are suspicious of him, The men he is defending either treat him with studied contempt or openly denounce him as a liar, the base commander dislikes him, all the more so in that he wants a nice quick guilty verdict in the case to appease the angry townsfolk. The humiliated Borgmann even tries to attack him. In a way Garrett is both detective and assassin. Like a detective, he must ferret out the truth–about what sort of a girl Fraulein Steinhof truly is, about what she may or may not have done to bring on her attack–and like a hit-man he will use the information he ferrets out to figuratively “kill” the girl on the witness stand. Contract fulfilled, her attackers spared the death penalty, he leaves the town as he enters it, as man whose tiny drop of pity at what he has done won’t go far in a town without any.

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