Made in the last year of the Third Reich by Helmut Käutner, one of themajor figures of post-War German cinema, UNDER THE BRIDGES decisively shucks off its cardinal historical hallmark and taps into an alternative realm where warfare and defeatism make no trespass in its blueprint. A proletarian love triangle between one woman and two men which predates Truffaut’s JULES AND JIM (1962), but in Käunter’s head space,ménage à trois is a too risqué cop-out, monogamy is still the keynote and one of the two men must be friend-zoned.
The twobachelors areHendrik (Raddatz) and Willy (Knuth), good friends and co-owners of a towed barge, who lament that living and working on the Havel river has taken a heavy toll on their chance of meeting a decent woman and getting married. Even their taste for the opposite sex is quite similar, both dally with a waitress called Vera (Grabley), who cannot choose between them because sometimes she cannot tell them apart, so naming a fatty goose Vera is their petty revenge, and Vera the goose will meet a very sorry ending when the suitors move onto their next target.
One night, they accidentally clock that there is a distressed girl leaning on the bridge's balustrade and it seems that she is going to jump but instead, she drops a 10-mark note into the water. And in the quirks of fate, the young girl Anna (Schroth) takes shelter on their barge while they sail toward Berlin where she lives on her lonesome. Both men take a fancy to her, whereas Anna is too defensive to reciprocate hers, and after learning that she earns her 10 marks from modeling, it casts a shadow on their courtship, and strains the bonhomie between the two men, whereupon Willy abandons their Amsterdam freight delivery and stays in Berlin with Anna, but her heart wants what it wants (a little friction is always the best catalyst of romance), three months later, everyone will find his or hers right place, on the barge of course.
Gauged as a progenitor of poetic realism, UNDER THE BRIDGES is visibly eking out its skimpy sustenance but graced with a beguiling silver allure (although the restoration is far from immaculate) through its embracing of both classic stock-in-trade (soft focus, glamorous close-ups, stark chiaroscuro) and unconventional montage choices (Dutch angles, heady editing, rustling flashback shots etc.), and remarkably,Käunter holds the central story tenably empathetic through its rational building of his three protagonists’ inscape. Hannelore Schroth comports herself as a melancholic damsel-in-distress, but not without touching niceties;Carl Raddatz gives a convincing turn in solidifying Hendrik’s amenable yet skeptical make-up andGustav Knuth zippily runs away with his avuncular innocuousness.
In a word, UNDER THE BRIDGES is a heart-winning romantic imbroglio level-headedly earns its auspicious ending fair and square, a fitting morale booster and divertissement to its frazzled populace of the time.
referential film: François Truffaut’s JULES AND JIM (1962, 8.6/10);Robert Siodmak and Edgar G. Ulmer’s PEOPLE ON SUNDAY (1930, 7.2/10).