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The Murderers Are Among Us
The Murderers Are Among Us
Actors: Hildegard Knef, Elly Burgmer, Erna Sellmer, Hilde Adolphi, Marlise Ludwig
Director: Wolfgang Staudte
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Mystery & Suspense, Military & War
UR     2002     1hr 21min

Critically ranked in the top ten of Germany's 100 most important films, Wolfgang Staudte's THE MURDERERS ARE AMONG US is a haunting film about personal accountability and the process of healing in post war Nazi Germany. Th...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Hildegard Knef, Elly Burgmer, Erna Sellmer, Hilde Adolphi, Marlise Ludwig
Director: Wolfgang Staudte
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Mystery & Suspense, Military & War
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Love & Romance, Mystery & Suspense, Military & War
Studio: First Run Features
Format: DVD - Black and White - Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 05/21/2002
Original Release Date: 08/16/1948
Theatrical Release Date: 08/16/1948
Release Year: 2002
Run Time: 1hr 21min
Screens: Black and White
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 7
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Languages: German
Subtitles: English

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Movie Reviews

Not To Be Missed
Beth Fox | Los Angeles, CA USA | 03/10/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This was the very first film made in post-World War II Germany, and it is ranked as one of the most important German films ever made. 15 million Germans saw it between 1946 and 1950. The story begins as a concentration camp survivor, Susanne Wallner, returns to her home in Berlin. She discovers that her apartment is occupied by a former Wehrmacht doctor, Hans Mertens. An experience during the war has seared his soul, and he is a damaged human being. Ultimately, we find out why. The event in question, and the callous manner in which it took place, is horrific.

This film takes on, in a hard-hitting way, the fact that many Germans walking around in 1946 had been complicit in, or even ordered, atrocities. (Hence, the title, "The Murderers Are Among Us.") It raises, and attempts to answer, the question of how it affected them. According to the film, some were tormented by their actions; others refused to accept any blame for them and went right back to "normal" life.

The film does not attempt to take on, however, the Nazi plan to exterminate the Jewish people. Susanne is a Christian, as is everyone else in the film. The graves all have crosses. At least in the English subtitles, the word "Jew" is not used once in this film. One would walk out of this film without knowing that there had ever been Jews in Germany, or understanding that their annihilation was a prime effort of Nazi Germany. (However, the film's 1946 German audience surely would have been able to put the film into context.) Additionally, the film nowhere describes what Susanne went through in the concentration camps. The focus is entirely on how the war psychologically damaged Dr. Mertens. Susanne is there to love and support him, and enable him to achieve redemption. But who is really the victim here?

These criticisms do not in any way diminish the power of the film, which cannot possibly cover all the ground of Nazi atrocities. Future films, from many different countries, would explore other aspects. Given that the film was made in Germany in 1946, it is remarkable that it is as hardhitting as it is.

The backstory of this film is interesting, too. Immediately after the war, the western Allies, concerned that German filmmakers were too steeped in Nazi propaganda to make films, did not allow moviemaking in the western sectors. This fear was not unfounded. According to the liner notes, the star of this film, Ernst Wilhelm Borchert, had been a member of the Nazi party and Wolfgang Staudte himself had had a small role in the film "Jud Suess," described on another site as an "Anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda film, depicting the Jew as a financier to dukes and noblemen." The Soviets, however, were interested in getting films made in German. Thus, Staudte filmed it in the Soviet sector, using the new DEFA studios, which would later become the national studios of East Germany. This film demonstrated to the world that Germans were capable of facing their past and moving forward toward democracy.

The fact that this film was made in 1946 enabled Wolfgang Staudte to film in the actual ruins of Berlin -- even interspersing a shot of the Trummerfrauen (rubble women) rebuilding the city. This adds an unmatchable sense of realism to the topic. This film is a must-see.
An exploration of a German Homecoming
Beth Fox | 04/28/2002
(3 out of 5 stars)

"There have been many movies about soldiers returning home from war, especially since Vietnam (Coming Home and The Deer Hunter leading into films like Courage Under Fire). But before the 70's it was rare to find a film that analyzed the absolute losing side's perspective. How do soldiers return to life if they are deemed losers by the whole world? In Staudte's film two soldiers return home to the ruins of post-war Berlin. The irony is that the one who courageously defended innocents finds himself destitute and plagued by nightmares while his sadistic officer has seamlessly blended back into the broken society. The film follows Ernst Borchert's character as he takes up with a woman and searches for a place for his life and a purposeful identity.
The power of the film is found in its realistic atmosphere shot in 1946 and in its uncompromising ambiguity. It is too early to make judgements on the completed WWII rather Staudte uses the medium to highlight the cyclical nature of violence. This is the notion that wars must be avoided at all costs for the damage they do is beyond any possible benefit as well as human comprehension. On that note, many see Murderers Among Us as a post-war message of hope. A prophecy that the German people would unite again as they had in the past, and again find some semblance of community. Only hopefully this time tempered by cool rationality. All in all, a decent film and one that begs comparison to the Hollywood mechanizations of the time epitomized in The Best Years of Our Lives."
A moving story of guilt, redemption and hope; German express
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 11/10/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)

""Report for December 24, 1942. Execution. 36 men, 54 women, 31 children, 347 rounds of ammunition"

It's now Berlin, a year after Germany surrendered. The city is little more than destroyed buildings and mountains of uncleared rubble. Susanne Wallner (Hildegarde Knef) has made her way to a crumbing apartment building where she lived before being sent to a concentration camp in 1943. She finds her apartment is now occupied by a man called Hans Mertens (Ernst Wilhelm Borchert). He's withdrawn, depressed, sardonic, and he refuses to leave. She finally says that she is moving in but that he can stay a few days until he finds other quarters. Mertens, it turns out, is a doctor who has lost all desire to do anything but drink. He had been a surgeon assigned to the Germany army in Poland. As he and Susanne tentatively develop feelings for each other, two things happen. He discovers the man who had been the captain of his unit in 1942 is now in Berlin, a happy and confident factory owner, father of two, and untroubled by any war experiences. Ferdinand Brueckner (Arno Paulsen) is a brisk little man with thinning hair, rimless glasses and a small mustache. He tells Mertens, "Every era offers its chances if you find them. Helmets from sauce pans or sauce pans from helmets. It's the same game." Mertens plans to shoot him.

Mertens also is called to help a young girl who is slowly suffocating. He reluctantly identifies himself as a doctor. He does not want to do anything, but knows the girl will die if he doesn't take emergency steps. He winds up realizing a new self-worth in his skills as a doctor. He and Susanne begin a much happier time together. Then Christmas Eve brings back all the memories of an atrocity he tried and failed to stop, and of the captain who gave the order to shoot dozens of hostages while he prepared a Christmas Eve celebration for his officers in a village in Poland. Mertens is determined this time to see that justice is done, and so be it if that means he must be a murderer, too. He finds Brueckner in Brueckner's darkened factory. The conclusion is tense but not without hope.

This sounds almost melodramatic. The Murderers Are Among Us, however, is anything but. The film was the first movie made in Germany after WWII. It's a sad, thoughtful reflection on the crimes Germany committed and on the need for some kind of accountability. Weaving through the sadness of Mertens, however, is the recognition of how important hope is. The movie, itself, is so well photographed and edited that it remains a gripping piece of work. The film was shot in Berlin and all the bombed-out buildings, the rubble and the sight of Berliners struggling to live is real. Director Wolfgang Staudte brings an effective mixture of expressionism and documentary realism to the film. He creates some wonderful scenes of angled stairways, broken windows, low, upward shots and harsh shadows.

And a word about Hildegarde Knef. She has always been one of my favorite actresses. She was an attractive woman but no Hollywood starlet type. She had a long face, a strong mouth, intelligent eyes with a mind you could see working. When she came to La La Land and Hollywood couldn't figure out what to do with her, she shrugged and immediately headed back to Europe, where she became an international star. She had a great success later on Broadway as Ninotchka in Cole Porter's Silk Stockings. She's one of the best reasons for watching The Lost Continent. (Eric Porter is the other.)

The DVD transfer has the quality of a good VHS tape. The audio is almost as good. Considering the environment of the story, this is not a serious drawback. There are two worthwhile extras. The first is a biography of Staudte, the other gives background on how the film came to be made."
A movie that focusses on Germans rebuilding their lives afte
z hayes | TX | 02/23/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This movie centers on Susanne Wallner, a young Berliner who for reasons unknown was interred in a concentration camp during WW II. She is portrayed as a German Gentile and a Christian. She returns to her old apartment and finds it already inhabited by a man, who is actually Dr Hans Mertens, a surgeon who had served in the German army during the war. An uneasy and awkward co-existence develops into a deeper bond between the two, though Susanne is unable to understand why Hans seems so tormented to the point that he can't practice his profession and drowns himself in drinking.

Hans meets Bruckner, his commanding officer in the German army who had ordered the execution of innocent men, women and children on Christmas Day 1942, and this has haunted him since. Hans desires vengeance and the rest of the movie deals with him coming to grips with what he has witnessed and how he puts his past to rest.

In this movie, we are given a glimpse of what Berlin was like after the war - a city in ruins. Most civilians were living in apartments with windows broken[as a result of the heavy bombing] and also dealing with the repercussions of war. BUT, there is a big flaw in this movie - nowhere is it acknowledged about the annihilation of the Jews. I'm not sure if this was deliberate but Susanne Wallner and all the rest of the characters are portrayed as Christians, and at the end of the movie, the many dead are symbolised by a grave with many crosses dotting the landscape - perhaps this is to show the loss suffered by the Germans themselves, excluding the Jews. In any case, though this is definiely not a Holocaust movie [as I was initially led to believe by the title], it is a well-made drama dealing with the traumas of war and its aftermath.