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USA 1961
Directed by
Gottfried Reinhardt
105 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Town Without Pity

Gottfried Reinhardt’s courtroom drama about the gang rape of the 16-year-old Karin Steinhof (Christine Kaufmann) committed by four off-duty drunken American G.I.'s (Robert Blake, Richard Jaeckel. Frank Sutton and Mal Sondock) in the small German town of Neustadt during the post-WWII Occupation is quite an anomaly because it somehow manages to look more substantial than it is.

Town Without Pity has subject matter which arouses deep passions, yet is strangely detached in realization. Perhaps it is the combination of the presence of Kurt Douglas in the lead as the soldiers' defence attorney, Kurt Hasse's richly tonal photography and Dimitri Tiomkin's music which gives the film the promise of something it never realizes, essentially an excoriation of the kind of petty bourgeois vindictiveness indicated by the title. Put simply however, too much is alluded to verbally rather than shown visually for the film to have much bite. Where the rape is concerned this works well but it undermines the rest of the film which tends to quickly illustrate its points rather than develop them dramatically.

The victim's father and the bürgermeister demand the death penalty, and given that the accused freely admit to the rape one doesn’t feel exactly outraged by this. But the defense counsel (Kirk Douglas) is less ready to cast the first stone and more importantly he tries to persuade them not to persist because it means that the girl will have to testify. They do persist however and he is forced to discredit the girl with tragic consequences. So ultimately this film is not about simple prejudice the way say, In The Heat Of The Night (1967) was so much as a broader ranging study of the consequences of the lack of pity. Rich material but Reinhardt does not make a dramatically satisfying meal of it.

The trouble is that for most of the film it is not clear exactly where it is going as it lurches from one aspect to another, often shoe-horning its characters into scenes designed to constitute a premise of its argument but never developing anything organically, the relationship between Douglas’s counsel and a female reporter (Barbara Rütting) who also functions as narrator (in an unusual turn she translates the German language dialogue) being as close as the film gets this. Whilst Reinhardt does not pull it off, the film remains a kind of interesting near miss.

FYI: The catchy title song by Tiomkin and Ned Washington was Oscar-nominated for Best Original Song but lost to Henry Mancini's and Johnny Mercer’s  “Moon River” from Breakfast At Tiffany’s.

Available from: Shock Entertainment




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