Town Without Pity (1961)
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Garrett destroys Karen on cross examination and manages to avoid the death penalty for his clients. The story ends tragically as the town casts Karen out as a harlot. Thus the victim in a tragic rape case is victimized once again by the legal system.
The movie's weaknesses, unfortunately, are in the actual realization of this excellent story. The screenplay is very uneven, over-developing some of the complexities while short-changing others. The use of a voice-over is a clever way to avoid having to subtitle the German speaking scenes, but as implemented it is a clumsy shortcut to giving us information which should have been written into the action. Most unfortunate is the poor choice of music. It blatantly attempts to force its particular mood on the viewer in total discordance with the more subtle manner in which the story is presented. On the bright side, the acting is good and the main point of the story - the brutal treatment of the girl on the witness stand and by the town - is not diluted by any of these problems, making this a movie well worth watching.
Christine Kaufman who shortly after this film became the second Mrs. Tony Curtis, is attacked and raped by four American soldiers. The four, Frank Sutton, Richard Jaeckel, Robert Blake, and Mal Sondock, are in danger of capital punishment as prescribed by the American Code of Military Justice.
As another reviewer pointed out this was taking place while Germany was still an occupied country. Allied occupation of Germany didn't officially end until 1955 when our High Commissioner to Germany, James B. Conant, became our first ambassador to the German Federal Republic. After that these four would have taken their chances in a German criminal court.
The fact though that they were soldiers also meant that there was no chance for acquittal. What had to be determined was how guilty they were, even to the extent of the ultimate punishment.
Kirk Douglas for the defense and E.G. Marshall for the prosecution make a good pair of adversaries. Marshall would very shortly see how the other half lived as after this film was done, he would star in the long running TV series, The Defenders.
Kirk Douglas is a tiger in the courtroom as he ruthlessly puts Kaufman's own character on trial. It's his job, it's done down to the present day with victims of rape. But he's also a person with conscience, he knows exactly the character of the four men he's charged with the defense of, the character of each of them individually.
Anyway there isn't a player alive who doesn't relish a good courtroom scene and Douglas made the most of his opportunity here. I don't believe Kirk got back in a courtroom until a made for TV remake of Inherit the Wind.
Of the German cast and I note that several including Kaufman have had substantial careers in the German cinema, Barbara Rueting as the German reporter who narrates the film and Gerhard Lippert as Kaufman's boyfriend also stand out.
Of course no discussion of Town Without Pity is complete without the title song which I remember so well blaring from the jukeboxes of 1961. This jazz/rock and roll song was very typical of what was happening in German and other foreign culture, an overwhelming Americanization of same. Gene Pitney sold a lot of records of Town Without Pity back in the day. If you've never seen the film you'll remember the song after seeing it once.
And you'll also remember in terms of attitudes they really are the same. Those little minds will indeed tear you in two.
It's what a Town Without Pity does.
By the way, I've seen the German version which is half-dubbed, half-original so that you have several characters speaking with two different voices. I'd prefer a complete English or German version respectively the use of subtitles.
I recommend it to anyone who wants to watch an excellent, serious movie.
And, of course, there is the memorable title song, sung by Gene Pitney, which accounted for the film's only (surprisingly) Oscar nomination. Even that lost out to the syrupy "Moon River" from "Breakfast at Tiffany's".
My one complaint about Turner's presentation was with the film's aspect ratio. Instead of showing a widescreen version, they showed a full-frame version with the framing "squeezed" so that faces were somewhat elongated and cars appeared "stubby" and compacted. This became very annoying. Even a pan & scan version would be better than this.
Nonetheless, for sheer power, as well as excellent acting by Kirk Douglas, E.G. Marshall, Christine Kaufmann, and a very young Robert Blake, I highly recommend "Town Without Pity".
As tastefully as it can be shown, while still showing exactly what happened, the film shows four American soldiers rape Christine in the beginning scene. The rest of the film involves the trial and the emotional damages Christine and her family suffer throughout the process. She gives a fantastic performance, and were it not for the narration, my heart would have absolutely broken for her.
Kirk Douglas plays the soldiers' attorney, and he also gives a wonderful performance. He's disgusted by his clients but can't refuse his assignment, and he tries to be as sympathetic to Christine as possible. There's a scene in which Kirk is interviewing Christine, with a physical translator present, and he learns more information about the case. He and Christine only communicate with their eyes because they don't want a record of what they're trying to say, and it's incredibly powerful. The majority of Kirk's performance is dual-focused: he's forced to say one thing, but his heart makes his eyes say something different.
Obviously, because of the heavy subject matter, this movie won't be for everyone. However, since the film was made in 1961, you can rest assured the opening scene isn't graphic. If you like watching very dramatic, non-feel-good movies just to appreciate the acting-I do, too-then you'll want to rent this one. You'll also want to pop in something lighter afterwards, like Pillow Talk.
Kiddy Warning: Obviously, you have control over your own children. However, since there's a rape scene and some heavy subject matter, I wouldn't let my kids watch it.
This is undoubtedly Kirk Douglas' finest performance, probably because he's playing a character somewhat like himself. But rookie actress Christine Kaufmann completely steals the show in what must have been a very difficult performance. She deserved an Oscar, not just a second-rate Golden Globe.
Director Gottfried Reinhard is the son of impresario Max Reinhard, the guy who put Frank Wedekind on the stage. Although you may not have heard of him, Wedekind wrote such famous plays as Lulu and Springtime Awakening (which resembles Town Without Pity in some ways). That line "the law is like a great wide river" is a paraphrase of a famous line from Springtime Awakening in fact, the movie has a ton of great quotable lines e.g. "such a small town, and so much hate and meanness".
Besides the portrait of a small town where everyone hates everyone hates everyone else, added tension is given by this being a proud and ancient place humiliated by foreign conquest and occupation (West Germany, 1960). The many tensions reach boiling point and explode. This Swiss-American co-production goes places Hollywood would never dare, it more resembles German movies like The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum.
The theme song was a smash hit in 1961, and even got an Oscar nomination; the music was written by the legendary Dimitri Tiomkin, a classically trained composer.
"No, it isn't very pretty what a town without pity can do-oo".
The film begins with four American servicemen in Germany raping a local lady. Major Garrett (Kirk Douglas) is called in to represent the men at their court martial and the men, if convicted, could receive the death penalty. Considering how angry the locals are and the overall mood, the military is hoping for a quick trial and execution of the men. However, as Garrett investigates the case, he's decided that while the men are guilty, they don't necessarily merit the death penalty...or at least one of them.
The film will no doubt anger many as the victim herself becomes the object of much of the cross-examination in court. She herself is on trial in a manner of speaking...which, sadly, does occur in many rape cases. Because of this, Garrett is neither a hero or really a villain...just a dedicated man doing his job in the face of a lot of opposition. Well worth seeing but NOT a film for everyone...especially kids and folks who themselves have been victimized.
**** (out of 4)
Incredibly hard hitting, depressing and brutal courtroom drama, which has sadly been forgotten over the decades. I read an interview with Kirk Douglas once and he talked about all the controversy including him getting death threats from some of his fans. United Artists put a warning on the film and asked theater owners not to let anyone under 17 into the film. Several theater owners wouldn't even show the film due to its subject matter. I think all of this controversy hurt the film when it was released but I think it's about time film buffs and film historians go back and take a look at this film and include it with the greatest courtroom films out there. This film still manages to shock and be outrageous nearly forty-five years after being released.
Four American soldiers (one played by Robert Blake) are stationed in a small German town where they rape a 16-year-old girl. It's obvious they are guilty and the town wants the death penalty, which the American government agrees to. A lawyer (Kirk Douglas) is called in and right from the start he hates his clients and agrees they are monsters yet he must do his job and defend them. To do this, he must at least get the death penalty dropped and the only way to do this is by putting the innocent girl on the stand and breaking her apart.
I'm a huge fan of Kirk Douglas and in my opinion this very well could be the greatest performance I've seen from him. He goes through all sorts of emotions from pain to anger to humiliation and there's not one false step along the way. You could break everyone of his scenes down and it's clear there isn't a false move and this is the perfect example of an actor doing everything right. Robert Blake is very haunting in his role and E.G. Marshall is wonderful as the prosecuting attorney. Christine Kaufmann brilliantly plays the young girl. This movie sends the viewer through all sorts of emotions and doesn't hold back on any level. This is the type of film that kicks you in the gut but instead of letting you catch your breath it keeps on kicking you. The interesting thing is that the viewer agrees with Douglas and the director makes sure you hate the soldiers from start to finish. At the same time, we understand Douglas has a job to do and in some ways, we understand him attacking the young girl who did nothing wrong.
The only problem with the film is some unwanted narration but after a while this didn't bother me too much. The music score by Dimitri Tiomkin perfectly captures the mood of the film and the title song by Gene Pitney is very haunting. If you look through review books this film gets rather low ratings so on that level I'd have to call this one of the greatest films I've ever seen that doesn't even get good reviews.
This film must have been shocking for its time (1961). It still shows well today, and will have most viewers in its grip until the end.
There is a good deal to digest here--Dysfunction in the families, credibility of witnesses, coming of age issues... But mostly what I thought about is how much of an advantage it is to have a good lawyer!
Enjoy this movie for the interesting plot and the talent of Kirk Douglas, but don't expect to come away feeling happy.
And rape was common. Allied soldiers were not as brutal as Soviet soldiers, who were looking for revenge after the terrible atrocities committed by the Germans in the east, but attacking German women was far from unusual in the west. The Soviets had their special reasons beyond the usual macho attitude of "take advantage because you can." (Not all men, of course, not all soldiers are like this, but there always seems to be a small percentage). The Soviets had much, much more to motivate them, the terrible deeds that German soldiers had subjected their country, their women, children and old people to. They were burning to wreak revenge, to rape, torture and humiliate German women. Allied soldiers had nothing on that scale to revenge, but some of them, too, looted and raped. Read "Exorcising Hitler;" it's an eye-opener.
"Town Without Pity" leaves the impression that rape was rare and subject to severe punishment. Not true. Enough time has passed that we are probably ready to face some of the truth of what we did, as well as what the Germans and Soviets did.
I would love to know where this film has been seen, both forty years ago and since then. It must have contributed to substantial anti-Americanism in Germany and it would not surprise me if it did so elsewhere. Not that the German characters are any better people. Without giving away anything about this film, its theme song is totally appropriate.
Frollecking by the river outside the little German town of Neustadt pretty 16 year old Kerin Steinhof, Christine Kaufmann,leaves her boyfriend 19 year old Frank Borgmann, Gerheart Lippert, because he,in feeling it's not right, declines to have sex with her. All by herself in the woods Karin disrobes her skimpy bikini and is suddenly grabbed from behind by drunken GI Sgt. Chuck Snyder, Frank Sutton, who together with three other fellow and drunk GI's, played by Robert Blake Richard Jeackle & Mal Sondock, brutally gang rape the helpless young woman.
Frank sensing something is wrong comes to Karin's aid only to be cold cocked and knocked unconscious by the guerrilla-like Sgt. Snyder. It's later in the movie that the distraught young man is humiliatingly slapped around by Karin's outraged father the town banker Karl Steinhof, Hans Nielsen, for allowing his daughter to be raped! As if the slim and very non-violent Frank had a chance to fight off Karin's four burly rapists which in fact he tried to do.
You would expect that Karin would get all the sympathy from the townspeople in Neustadt for the unspeakable ordeal she went through! But instead she's held up to ridicule for, what almost everyone in town feels, allowing or even inviting her attackers to gang rape her!
With the town's elders including Karin's father Herr Steinhof demanding the death penalty it's now up to the accused GI's US Army defender Maj. Steve Garrett, Kirk Douglas, to put Karin on the stand. It's there under Maj. Garrett's brutal and embarrassing cross-examination that Karin undergoes a far more, and in public, humiliation then she even suffered at the hands of her rapists.
The film "Town Without Pity" is without a doubt the best movie ever to come out from a Hollywood studio about the ugly subject of rape and its even uglier consequences in how it not only effects its victim but those who know her. Karin is driven to almost insanity afraid to even leave her home in fear of being sat upon by her neighbors in calling her a whore or even worse.
Just about disowned by her parents Karin and Frank, who stuck by her during the whole movie, decides to leave Neustadt and begin a new life but even that isn't in cards for the two young lovers. The very tragic ending is far too honest then you would expect in a Hollywood movie back then, in 1961, when feel good endings were a must in order not to disturb audiences who want escapism not realism in films. And it's that very tragic ending that make the film "Town Without Pity" the landmark movie that it is today.
Powerhouse performance by Kirk Douglas as the reluctant Army defender Maj. Steve Barrett who sees what's coming, in Karin's father demanding the death penalty for her rapists, but is totally helpless to prevent it. Pleading with Herr Steinhof to not let his daughter Karin to be forced to take the stand Maj. Barrett is then forced to bring out Karin's tendencies in exposing herself in public. This leads to Karin breaking down on the witness stand and having her attackers given long prison sentences not the death penalty that her father so much wanted.
I for one could not believe that Karin's father was so naive about her flaunting her body to perfect strangers that he would let her go through the unbearable cross-examination that she was subjected to by Maj. Barrett. It was also sad on Herr Steinhof's, as well as Frank's widowed mother, part to also persecute Karin's boyfriend Frank who by far was more considerate and sympathetic toward his daughter and the horrible ordeal she was going through then anyone else, even Maj. Barrett, in the film. And it was his-Herr Steinhof's-actions that eventually lead to Karin's death at the end of the movie.
***SPOILER ALERT*** "Town Without Pity" pulls no punches by packing a wallop in its story about rape and how it destroys not only physically but emotionally its victims. The film also shows the cold indifference towards the rape victim by, what later turns out in the movie, even her parents who treat her as an outcast because she, instead of dying, survives her terrible ordeal. Karin all alone, with only Frank standing by her side, had no other choice but to end it all which also ended her suffering. Karin in doing what she did also showed those, besides her rapists, who had so cold heartedly treated her and dove Karin to her death what unfeeling monsters they really are.
P.S The film's haunting and right on target theme song "Town Without Pity" is preformed by the late Gene Pitney.
I watched the film when it was shown on television recently for two reasons. Firstly, because I have long been an admirer of its main star, Kirk Douglas. Secondly, because I am myself a lawyer by profession and was interested in the legal issues it raises. Indeed, it possibly raises more legal issues than can comfortably be dealt with in one film. Among these are:-
1. Is it right that American servicemen should enjoy the privilege of "extraterritoriality", that is to say the right of being tried by an American military tribunal for crimes committed against local people, rather than having to face a normal German criminal court? The risk of such an arrangement is that local people will lack confidence in the integrity of the proceedings, believing that American soldiers will always believe the word of one of their own over that of a foreign civilian. (Contrary to what some have stated, West Germany was not "occupied territory" in 1960; German sovereignty was re-established in 1955, following which American forces were in the country as NATO allies rather than occupiers).
2. Conversely, is it right that a military court should have the power to pass harsher sentences than those which would be available to a civilian court trying the same crime? West Germany had abolished the death penalty, even for murder, prior to the time this film is set,
3. Should a lawyer be able to override the wishes of his client in the way Garrett does here? When one of the accused, Private Larkin, attempts to plead guilty, Garrett brusquely overrules him and insists that a "not guilty" plea be entered. Later, without his client's knowledge or permission, Garrett attempts to call medical evidence showing that Larkin is impotent, only for the tactic to backfire when Larkin indignantly denies his impotence to the court. (In any case, even if Larkin had not taken part in the rape himself, he could still be convicted as a "secondary party" if he had aided or encouraged the others to do so).
4. Most importantly, should a lawyer in a rape case be permitted to cross-examine a witness in the brutal way shown here? Garrett's strategy is to try to humiliate Karin and to destroy her reputation, not in order to vindicate his clients' innocence but to try and force her to withdraw from the trial, thus ensuring that the court cannot pass the death sentence. As we are to see, however, this strategy is also to backfire badly.
This is not one of Douglas' greatest films, but he gives a competent enough performance as Garrett. He is not motivated by a belief in his clients' innocence or by any ideological opposition to the death penalty; Douglas rather plays him as a man who has been given a job to do and is determined to do it as well as he can, regardless of his own personal inclinations. (Personally, his sympathies seem to be more with Karin than with his clients). Another feature of the film is the title song, which became a hit for Gene Pitney and which serves as the main theme in Dimitri Tiomkin's jazz-style score.
The main problem with the film is that it is essentially an "issue move" with too many issues. It is an issue move about rape, and about the way in which the court system deals with rape, but it is also an issue movie about the death penalty, and about military justice, and about American- German relations during the Cold War, but the attempt do deal with all these issues together rather middies the water and it never makes a really clear statement about any of them. 6/10
Some goofs. At the beginning of the film we are told that Karin's boyfriend Frank is 19, but near the end of the film, only a few weeks later, he talks about money given to him by his father for his 21st birthday. The design of the American flag in the courtroom (50 stars, in five rows of ten) is completely wrong. The current 50-star design was approved by Presidential proclamation in 1959 and formally adopted on 4th July 1960. Given that the novel on which this film was based was not published until 1960, which means that production of the film could not have started until after the new design was publicly known, I am at a loss to explain this error.
Kirk Douglas is renowned for playing mean, sadistic characters. In "Town Without Pity" he plays a devilish little lawyer who so expertly protects American soldiers that he manages to turn an entire German town against the very victim of a sexual assault. Unfortunately the film's braver moments are continuously undermined by dull direction and a slack script. It opens with an immensely cool, noirish sequence: as Gene Pitney's "Town Without Pity" plays on a jukebox, a gang of young men leave a sleepy bar.
6/10 - Worth one viewing. See "A Face in the Crowd".
This is an excellent film. I lived in Germany (stationed with the US Air Force) in an area near where this film was shot. US Military in Germany were under a "status of forces agreement", which is basically a treaty between two countries, to offer legal protection to military forces.
In Germany, the military courts usually have "dibs" on crimes committed on German soil, by foreign military. The German government can waive jurisdiction, if it chooses to.
In the film, the four defendants are basically "scum-bags", who brutally rape a German girl. The rape is not in question. The film goes to some of the subtleties of US military law, under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
What boggles my mind, is that when the crime took place, you could go to a house of prostitution, and get sex for DM40 (about 18 US dollars).
During this time period, the court would put the victim on trial, and bring her past sex life up for scrutiny. Fortunately, victim shield laws have done away with this sordid practice.