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Verboten! (DVD Review)

19 Jul, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
$24.95 DVD
Not rated.
Stars Dick Kallman, James Best, Susan Cummings, Tom Pittman.

Fans of writer/director Samuel Fuller will let him get away with anything and even relish the nerviness of his conceits. Or, to put it another way, how many movies do you know that feature Beethoven’s Fifth on the soundtrack, followed by the voice of an unbilled Paul Anka (then in his “Put Your Head on My Shoulder” pop prime) singing the title tune? Hey, kids — let’s all tune into "American Bandstand" and dance pelvis-to-pelvis to the theme from Verboten!

Still, I like this 1959 movie within its severe budgetary limitations, which include sparse crowd scenes and possibly its abrupt wrap-up. It had a strange distribution history, too, being one of the last projects filmed at RKO before the studio went out of business. Other in-the-can RKOs such as The Girl Most Likely and Enchanted Island landed at Universal-International or Warner Bros., but Fuller’s film ended up carrying the torch-lady logo of Columbia Pictures because he had a deal there during the same The Crimson Kimono/Underworld USA era.

Fuller’s extensive combat experiences in World War II no doubt colored this rather raw ‘B’-pic (or close) about a conquering G.I. (James Best, later of the filmmaker’s quintessential 1963 Shock Corridor) who is cared for in a rubble-surrounded house by an anti-Nazi fraulein (Susan Cummings). Best so specialized in playing good-ole-boys that he later ended up as Sheriff Roscoe in TV’s “The Dukes of Hazzard,” and there’s a little of that here. His character tends to go back and forth on how credible he finds the sincerity of Cummings’ Nazi-bashing to be, but the performers have good chemistry, and Cummings (who disappeared from the screen after the mid-1960s) is very attractive, so one thing credibly leads to another. The early quasi-courtship scenes are among the movie’s best, though later ones have the advantage of dealing with an interesting slice of history.

Of all things, they deal with Werwolves (minus the middle “e”), which were not the Lon Chaney Jr. kind. These creatures were the gang of German malcontents who wanted to rekindle Nazism at war’s end, sabotage American food deliveries to displaced countrymen and make a nuisance of themselves to the aiding AIG (American Military Government) — the organization with whom Best signs on as a civilian employee when he quits the army to marry Cummings, an act which, in the eyes of many, is  … Verboten!

Trying to explain Fuller’s directorial style to my son recently, I told him to imagine a National Enquirer type of publication in which every story is written as a headline — and where the headlines themselves were even more direct and in-your-face than usual. Fuller cuts between real newsreel footage (e.g. someone eating out of a garbage can) and nearly-as-grubby staged scenes that have the bombed-out look of Billy Wilder’s A Foreign Affair or George Seaton’s The Big Lift. Though in this case, Fuller relies on a lot of interiors because his movie too obviously lacked the bankroll of those major league productions.

Late in the movie, Cummings (by now wrongly accused by Best of marrying him as a meal ticket) takes her impressionable younger brother to the Nuremberg Trials to dissuade him from his Werwolf ways. There is a considerable amount of real footage from the trial — which in turn includes harrowing real postwar footage from the liberated concentration camps — stuff so awful that it’s rather amazing to think that audiences likely walked into it unsuspecting on the bottom half of some double bill in 1959.

By that point, the movie’s third-billed performer was dead. Aggressively blond, Tom Pittman looks physically perfect for the chief Werwolf heavy part — he could he Hardy Kruger’s kid brother — though the actor’s other posthumous role of note came as a more conventional hood (at least in those days) as the lead in something called High School Big Shot. Pittman was killed on Halloween in 1958 when his car went off the road in California’s Benedict Canyon, and my local newspaper in Ohio captured my childhood imagination by reporting it, obscure actor or not. I had to wait almost 20 years until I programmed a Fuller retrospective at the American Film Institute before I even got a chance to see what the guy looked like.

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