Saturday Night Cinema: Town Without Pity


Tonight’s Saturday Cinema classic is the 1961 Town Without Pity, based on Manfred Gregor’s novel, The Verdict,  inspired by an actual incident.

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Filmed on location in Germany, this socially conscious courtroom drama chronicles the trial of four American soldiers accused of gang-raping a local teen-age girl. The girl’s father and the burgermeister demand that the guilty four receive the death penalty, but for that to happen, the traumatized and socially outcast girl (because before the rape she was a bit promiscuous) will have to face her assailants and identify them. The trial creates quite a brouhaha in town as the self-righteous residents begin discussing the town. Meanwhile an American defense attorney prepares a ruthless line of courtroom questioning for the girl. She cannot handle his cruelty and crumbles on the stand. The trial ends; the soldiers are convicted but escape the death penalty and are sentenced to jail terms. Afterward the despondent girl takes her life, and the prosecuting attorney suddenly finds himself a pariah for being so mean on the stand.

Last night’s Friday night music selection,  the Oscar nominated “Town Without Pity,” was written specifically for this film.

‘Town Without Pity’
New York Times, Oct. 11, 1961

IN a world torn apart by the terrible symbolism of a Berlin bisected by barbed wire, it is both surprising and comforting to know that a basically impressive and genuinely honest film such as “Town Without Pity” could be made. For this deadly serious and grim drama about a shocking and revolting crime committed by American G. I.’s against a local girl in an occupied German town, which opened at the Astor and Fine Arts Theatre yesterday, evokes both the varied meanings of justice and the callousness of man in a troubled society.”Town Without Pity,” let it be noted at the outset, is not a preachment or tract on the surface. Its underlying fault, it would appear to one observer, is in its ineffectiveness in projecting the anger and turmoil caused by such an explosive, scandalous occurrence. One is only made aware that the citizenry is not in revolt, but merely curious, pruriantly or otherwise. Its impact, therefore, is lessened to the point where, on occasion, it seems that the film, is simply a discussion of the fine points of the law and little else.

This, however, is a minor point. The scenarists, producer-director Gottfried Reinhardt and a cast composed of Americans and Germans, acquit themselves in thoroughly admirable, natural fashion. The story evolves as authentically as the actual German locales at which it was filmed. The adult approach is evident in the presentation, which is neither black not white. Like life itself, “Town Without Pity” emerges as a study in grays. A 16-year-old, clad in the briefest of bikinis, has a spat with her 19-year-old boy friend. Moments later she is attacked and raped by four soldiers who are off-duty, drunk and with nothing but time on their hands.This would appear to be an open-and-shut case punishable, if the girl does not testify, by long prison terms. But circumstances alter the already horrible situation. The father of the youngster and the town’s Mayor insist on a death penalty, and the assaulted girl will testify. This brings into play a tough Army defense attorney, who, while he is repelled by his clients’ awful crime, is, nevertheless, bound to prove that they cannot be executed by a rope of circumstantial evidence.

How this is achieved, as well as the film’s tragic climax, is delineated with methodically effective technique. It is a searchingly careful method, executed largely without flamboyance. Our defender is a roughly-hewn citizen who knows his law but also is aware of human frailties. He pleads with the girl’s parents to keep her off the stand. He demands that his clients tell their stories straight and without color, and he is willing to parry words and ideas about justice, Americans and Germans, people in general and the law with a cynical and suspicious female reporter for a scandal sheet, even if its upsets his mind and body.”Town Without Pity” does leave one with the idea that the law and, perhaps, justice, are strangely malleable. And Kirk Douglas, as the consistently harried defense attorney, does a remarkably restrained and strikingly professional job in the role of a man involved in a task that is thankless at best.

Christine Kaufmann, as the ill-fated, ruined girl in the case, who is found to be less than the perfect child her parents imagine her to be, contributes a beautifully shaded stint in a role calling for nuances of feeling and delivery. Credit Hans Nielsen with an equally deeply-felt portrayal of the father, who is shocklingly exposed to the fact that his daughter is not a paragon of all the virtues, and that vengeance is not the answer to all crimes.Gerhart Lippert is fine as Fraeulein Kaufmann’s confused and loving boy friend, and Robert Blake, too, as the most disturbed of the four G. I.’s. His buddies in crime, Richard Jaeckel, Frank Sutton and Mal Sondock; Barbara Rutting, as the overly curious reporter; Barbara van Bergen, as a helpful tart, and E. B. Marshall, as the sincere prosecuting officer, give glints of reality to the film. And Mr. Reinhardt’s meticulous direction stamps “Town Without Pity” as hard-hitting, realistic and often memorable drama.

TOWN WITHOUT PITY; screen play by Silvia Reinhardt and Georg Hurdalek; based on the novel “The Verdict,” by Manfred Gregor; adaptation by Jan Lustig; directed and produced by Gottfried Reinhardt; presented by the Mirisch Company in association with Gloria Film of Munich and released through United Artists. At the Astor Theatre, Broadway and Forty-fifth Street, and at the Fine Arts, Fifty-eighth Street, west of Lexington Avenue. Running time: 105 minutes.

Mai. Steve Garrett . . . . . Kirk Douglas
Lieut. Col. Pakenham . . . . . E. G. Marshall
Karin Steinhof . . . . . Christine Kaufmann
Herr Steinhof . . . . . Hans Nielsen
Frau Steinhof . . . . . Karin Hardt
Frank Borgmann . . . . . Gerhart Lippert
Bidie . . . . . Richard Jaeckel
Jim . . . . . Robert Blake
Chuck . . . . . Frank Sutton
Joey . . . . . Mal Sondock
Inge Koerner . . . . . Barbara Rutting
Trude . . . . . Ingrid van Bergen
Frau Borgmann . . . . . Eleanore van Hoogstraten
Dr. Urban . . . . . Max Haufler
Burgermeister . . . . . Siegfried Schurenberg
Frau Kulig . . . . . Rose Rene Roth
General Stafford . . . . . Alan Gifford

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