Sunday 10 September 2023

Movie Review: Town Without Pity (1961)

Genre: Legal Drama
Director: Gottfried Reinhardt
Starring: Kirk Douglas, E.G. Marshall, Barbara Rütting, Christine Kaufmann
Running Time: 105 minutes

Synopsis: Four US soldiers stationed in Germany get drunk and rape 16-year-old Karin (Christine Kaufmann), a respected banker's daughter. The rapists, including meek Corporal Larkin (Robert Blake), are soon arrested. Outraged local village residents demand the stiffest penalty, and prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Pakenham (E.G. Marshall) agrees to hold an open court and seek the death penalty. Defence attorney Major Garrett (Kirk Douglas) has to brush off intrusions by reporter Inge Koerner (Barbara Rütting), and realizes he may have to destroy Karin's reputation to save the accused men from death.

What Works Well: An uncredited Dalton Trumbo helped adapt the novel by Manfred Gregor, and director Gottfried Reinhardt confidently strides into controversial - and often incendiary - territory. Rape, the sexual appetite of a young woman (before she was assaulted, Karin's lust was frustrated by her 19-year-old boyfriend), victim-blaming, exhibitionism and voyeurism, town gossip, and pride over truth are all thrust into the courtroom. The combustible mix is layered onto a foreign army's propensity to ravage, and Kirk Douglas cuts through the luggage with sharp-eyed - and heartless - clarity.

What Does Not Work As Well: The crime consequences push in many directions at once, and the sloppy handling of court procedures adds confusion to any intended narrative sympathies. The "lawyers are scummy but conflicted" and "in some court cases everyone loses" themes register, but Reinhardt muddles his intentions by abandoning one character to a horrid fate with inadequate reflection. Dimitri Tiomkin's music is both dissonant and over-used, while the Gene Pitney theme song is a melodic mess.

Conclusion: Groundbreaking, but also suffering from ethical disarray. 

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