Razzia (Police Raids, 1947) is a rather snazzy German police thriller from the post-war years, covering comparable territory to Billy Wilder’s A Foreign Affair and Carol Reed’s The Third Man: it deals with the then-current European crime wave known as the black market.
The director Werner Klingler’s career might well repay study, as it leaps around so oddly. In 1929 he was in America and acted in Von Sternberg’s Viennese-set melodrama The Case of Lena Smith, now seemingly a lost film apart from one ten-minute fragment. He also played Germans for James Whale in Journey’s End and Hell’s Angels (maybe he was one of those bit players who improvised their lines, forcing Whale to hire lipreaders when he supervised the adding of sound). Returning to Germany he became an assistant director (S.O.S. Iceberg) and then a director, mainly of lightweight thrillers, passing from the Hitler era through to the post-war denazification seemingly without a hitch. (My longstanding interpretation of that process, as it applied to the film industry, is that you went into a room and a panel of people asked you, “How do you feel about Hitler, now?” and only Leni Riefenstahl was too crazy or too honest to give the desired answer to that.)
Klingler would make Eddie Constantine vehicles and a Mabuse sequel (when the once-feared embodiment of the zeitgeist had become a pulpy Fu Manchu stand-in) and a krimi whodunnit from an Edgar Wallace, Jr. source novel. But he was a talented hack: Razzia is more than just slick, it’s inventive.
The film never stops being entertaining, but the clever stuff comes early: Klingler and his scenarist, Harald G. Petersson (a flexible genre all-rounder who turned his pen to krimi, Karl May euro-westerns, and the remakes of Fritz Lang epics which dominated commercial film-making in West Germany after the war and before the New German cinema) have drawn from the Lang style, linking scenes with lines of dialogue to create a propulsive momentum and a sinister feeling of interconnectedness.
Early on, a senior detective works his way up the food chain, interrogating first a sweet old lady caught with black market schnapps, then the man she bought it from, then the man he bought it from. As he paces the room, overlaps of dialogue conflate scenes so the switch in interviewee is both seamless and surprising: he seems to be talking to Person Of Interest #1 and then it turns out to be Person of Interest #2, all in the same shot.
There’s also a terrific effect when a detective faces off with the main gangster in his lair. A sudden, from-nowhere blast of sound startles us, then turns out to be just a soda siphon firing into a glass. Klingler has tricked out the natural sound effect with a few frames of gunshot audio, a trick probably inspired by the snarling bus brakes of Cat People.
The look of the film combines the atmospherically bombed-about Berlin streets, and a shady nightclub where crooked deals are done. Melodrama is provided by having a recently-freed German P.O.W. be the son of a cop who gets killed, before finding himself embroiled with the smuggling gangs. A crooked detective attempts to frame his colleague to dispel suspicion.
If this movie remains a skilled potboiler and doesn’t rise to the standard of The Third Man, it’s because it doesn’t have much use for those films‘ dark irony. The typecasting demonstrates this. Here is the staunch detective hero:
Here is the vacillating son:
Here is the corrupted cop:
Here is the fiendish night club manager and black marketeer:
Terrific faces, but they’re all rather on the nose, aren’t they? And so we’re in a world of cut-outs, artfully slid around a backlit backdrop of bomb sites, a cops-and-robbers fable dutifully recited amid an ongoing documentary reality.