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The Forgotten: Bloody Kids

_Emile and the Detectives_ is a children's adventure story scripted by the young Billy Wilder.

Emil and the Detectives is a popular novel that was filmed several times and once by Disney. The version you want to see, however, and which you very possibly can't see, is the one scripted by Billy (or "Billie") Wilder and directed by some bloke called Gerhardt Lamprecht. I don't know his other films, but he appears to be amazing.

Look! 

Emil, visiting his granny in Berlin, is drugged by an evil criminal man on the train and robbed of the money he was delivering. The film has carefully set Emil up as a spirited young fellow, kind and thoughtful but also a little naughty. A prank involving a public statue has left him in fear of being pinched by the police, so when he's robbed he joins forces with a gang of kids to get his cash back.

The combination of location naturalism and studio artifice, which is at its most extreme in the train hallucination, is mediated by Allan Gray's percussive, cabaret-inflected score. (Gray would wind up in England where he scored Colonel Blimp and The African Queen.) And it's this mixture of reality and fantasy which puts the film firmly in the lineage of Louis Feuillade. Not a tradition one readily associates with Billy Wilder, but there it is.

This is certainly my favorite of the early Wilders I've seen, before his work with Charles Brackett. After the initial situation is established, the film becomes one long suspense sequence, leavened with humor, as Emil and the gang tail their mark and attempt to get close enough to him to pinch his ill-gotten gains back. Wilder would later establish himself as a pretty fine exponent of dramatic tension, and it's fun to see the gripping situations he devises here. Disguised as a bellhop, Emil enters the bad guy's hotel room to search it, but has to dive under his bed when interrupted. Realizing the villain's wallet is under the pillow, he boldly reaches for it, only to get his hand trapped when the slumbering malefactor rolls over...

And later, there's a scene where he hides behind a door that opens outward into the corridor in defiance of all architectural sense: just as Barbara Stanwyck would, some years later, in Double Indemnity.

As the villain, Fritz Rasp, recently restored to his rightful place as a major character in Lang's Metropolis (the Thin Man), is a carnivalesque mixture of comical and disturbing. Not having read the book, I don't know how much of the character's surreal patter is Wilder's, but it's terrific stuff: he attempts to entertain/bamboozle the boy with crazily exaggerated stories about Berlin, its size and speed and overall wonder. The buildings are so tall the elevators need to contain restaurants so the customers don't starve to death on the way up, that kind of thing.

Director Gerhard Lamprecht is largely an enigma to me, as I haven't seen any of his other sixty-odd films, nor do their names mean anything to me, but on the basis of this film alone—or on the basis of the scene above alone—he's clearly of considerable interest.

Of course, given when this film was made and the ages of the participants, one can't help but wonder what became of the talented young cast, and the IMDb supplies the sobering answer. Juvenile romantic interest, Inge Landgut, is best known as Peter Lorre's first victim in M, but she survived the war and was still working in the 1980s. Emil's rival died in the USSR in 1941, and we can make rough assumptions about the circumstances. Blond-haired Rolf Wenkhaus, who plays Emil, didn't hang about: as early as 1933, he played in a Nazi propaganda film, Storm Trooper Brand. He was killed in action in 1942, shot down over Ireland.

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The Forgotten is a regular Thursday column by David Cairns, author of Shadowplay.

Hi David, from a German point of view, Lamprecht is not quite as forgotten, but EMIL is by far his most famous film. The films he made under Nazi-UFA have somewhat tainted his reputation as a filmmaker. But he is important for another reason: 50 years ago, Lamprecht founded the DEUTSCHE KINEMATHEK („German Cinemathèque”) in Berlin, building on his vast private film collection he began putting together in his teens. For the Kinemathek’s birthday earlier this year, a couple of books were published on Lamprecht, and a film series tried to re-evaluate his films. This is one of the books (with Lamprecht’s portrait on the cover): http://www.deutsche-kinemathek.de/de/content/mosaikarbeit Best, Christoph
Thanks! What would you say were Lamprecht’s other most notable films? I’m keen to investigate further if I can get the stuff to do so.
I’ve only seen only one of his silents a few years ago in Pordenone, a not very remarkable adaptation of Thomas Mann’s story. From somewhere I remember the name of Prinzessin Turandot as one notable lavish production made under Nazis (Thea Von Harbo also had her hand in this project).
I think I’m going to check that one out. The design looks fabulous.
I hear that IRGENDWO IN BERLIN (“Somewhere in Berlin”, 1946), a children’s drama set in the ‘moon landscape’ of ruins in post war Berlin is worth watching. C
Sounds great — perhaps a double feature with Britain’s Hue and Cry, from Ealing and Charles Crichton.
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Besides the feature films mentioned Gerhard Lamprecht´s documentary trilogy shot in the mid 1920ies in Berlin (“Die Verrufenen” 1925 – in the US: “The slums of Berlin” and “Die Unehelichen,1926” and “Menschen untereinander” 1926) are noteworthy. Feature film “Madame Bovary” 1937 (actors: Pola Negri and Ferdinand Marian) is outstanding. Post war “Somewhere in Berlin” ( Irgendwo in Berlin, 1946) was one of DEFA film first productions.
Thanks! Am storing up all these suggestions for a Lamprecht binge.
Two of the films Tervlugt mentioned got a dvd release from German Edition Filmmuseum; http://www.edition-filmmuseum.com/product_info.php/info/p146_Die-Verrufenen—Der-f-nfte-Stand——Die-Unehelichen.html and Emil and the Detectives is getting a BFI release this summer along with a English 1935 version. Very much looking forward to seing these two after reading this great piece.
That’s great news! Emil is on YouTube but if you’re in the UK or can play Region 2, it’d be well worth waiting for the disc. And a Brit version ought to be interesting. Milton Rosmer wasn’t such a great filmmaker, but it has Robert “the voice” Rietty as a child star!

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