Archive for Midnight and the Devil Comes

Adorf, Mario: My Part in His Downfall

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , on June 8, 2019 by dcairns

I just re-read my original piece on NACHTS, WENN DER TEUFEL KAMM (1957) (NIGHTS, WHEN THE DEVIL CAME; or THE DEVIL COMES AT NIGHT), directed by Robert Siodmak, and I’m pleased to discover it’s both extremely short and quite inaccurate, which gives me a good opportunity to write some more.

The film deals with the subject of a serial killer on the loose in Nazi Germany, and beautifully brings out the horror and the irony of that situation, contrasting — without overtly doing anything — the depredations of the individual with the much worse acts of the state. Adolfo Celi Mario Adorf turns in a convincing and detailed performance as the killer, concentrating on making it a compelling portrayal of a man with learning difficulties.

What I didn’t know last time was that Adorf’s real-life subject was, in all probability, innocent — a hapless soul tortured by the German police into confessing to a bunch of killings, thereby helping them to take scores of unsolved cases off the books. By this light, Siodmak’s well-meaning, liberal film turns into an unfortunate whitewash of the Reich’s police force, who were — OF COURSE — in it up to their ears.

So my feelings about the film — maybe Siodmak’s best post-Hollywood production — are complicated. It gets at some poetic truths, but defames an innocent, murdered man. It has its own cinematic truth, like Truffaut’s L’ENFANT SAUVAGE, and like that film, it can’t quite escape an obligation to history, which it chooses to ignore.

But here’s why I think it’s a brilliant piece of film-making:

Adorf, having been captured, is taken to visit one of his old crime scenes. He starts to re-enact what happened for the benefit of police. The camera follows his invisible victim — present only in his imagination, but unseen by us. At a certain point, we lose sight of the cops, who must be closely shadowing their man, surely.

We are inside Adorf’s mind. Not quite in the past — because we don’t see his “prey” — only the spaces she once walked in — but we don’t see the police he’s talking to. We’re trapped in a phantom zone somewhere between then and now.

And then, when Adorf begins scrabbling in the dirt to conceal the invisible body, a simple cut abruptly causes the police to appear — they’ve been all around him all along.

I can’t think of another film of the time that does this. We’re practically in MARIENBAD territory. A pan around the treetops during the recollection of the murder itself makes me think RASHOMON is in there somewhere. And the camera reconstructing the crime is taken from REBECCA, I think, but the strange, depopulated half-world is a wholly original conceit.

“Sergeant, get these stains analysed!”

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 19, 2008 by dcairns

So says Inspector Wim Wenders (not his real name) as he crashes an abandoned shagging palace, hot on the trail of some kind of HIGH-CLASS NONCE RING. For this is the sleazy world of Italian giallo, and in particular the particularly sleazy WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS, directed in brisk yet salacious fashion by Massimo Dalamano, the 1974 follow-up to WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE? (Between the two entries in the WHAT? series, Dalamano gave us a cop thriller which appears to be called WHO IS A BIGGER BASTARD THAN INSPECTOR CLIFF? Shadowplay salutes him!)

WHYDTS sticks in my mind, years after seeing it, for a scene where a coroner is asked how a young girl has died, and he wordlessly produces an X-ray of her pelvis with a giant kitchen knife sticking up it. Blast of organ music, cut to the grieving parents in church at her funeral. The combination of sex, violence, religion and sheer showbiz vulgarity seemed to encapsulate everything that’s queasily life-denying yet compelling about gialli.

WHTDTYD is similarly compact with grue and deviance, following a series of meat cleaver murders committed to cover up a high school prostitution ring. Of course it’s all handled with the Bressonian subtlety we’ve come to expect of Italian soft-porn psycho-thrillers — the scene where Inspector Wim finds a series of soiled plastic bags packed in the boot of an abandoned car, yanks one out, and sends a severed head spinning across the tarmac is particularly restrained. The victim’s wronged wife, come to identify the body, savagely demands to see the whole thing (meticulously reassembled by forensic nerds) so she can gloat —

But then, when she does see it, she’s NOT KEEN.

Meanwhile, Damano, a former cinematographer (A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS), prominently features a series of attractive lamps in scene after scene. Cinema is light, he’s telling us. In amongst this squalor and mayhem, there is yet grace and illumination. Then he shows us a schoolgirl pulling her panties on in leering closeup.

The thing is oddly compulsive, with an eccentric score by Stelvio Cipriano (Morricone did the first film, also eccentrically) that’s fast in the slow bits and slow in the fast bits. There’s nice use of wide-angle lens distortion as the killer (motorcycle courier with big chopper) barges about. There’s a peeping tom with an orange face. There’s Farley Granger, slumming it briefly. There’s Mario Adorf as a troubled policeman — he once played a serial killer himself, in a terrific film, Robert Siodmak’s MIDNIGHT AND THE DEVIL COMES — a serial killer in Nazi Germany! And there are quirks: attempting to dismember the glamorous assistant D.A. in an elevator, the ruthless assassin is interrupted by a little old man shouting “Stop that!” and, perhaps suddenly embarrassed about his crime spree, runs away.

It’s stupid little things like that that actually add realism.