Have started reading Joseph McBride’s new book, Billy Wilder: Dancing on the Edge, which naturally led to my watching People on Sunday, a silent film co-directed by Robert Siodmak and Edgar Ulmer (with assists from Curt Siodmak, Fred Zinnemann and Wilder). The easy summary is that it’s mostly about four young people on a sunny day before the Nazis have taken over. It’s worth noting that that the Siodmaks, Ulmer, Wilder and Zinnemann were all Jewish and, having collaborated on this vision of a golden moment in Berlin, were soon to flee to America where they would all find employment (and make a number of classics) in Hollywood.
The heart of the film is a betrayal. A young man meets a young woman on the street and arranges a date with her in a park. She shows up with a blonde friend and he shows up with a friend as well. The young man shifts his attentions to the blonde friend, wanders off with her. Apparently, they have sex in the woods (this is implicit). The young woman suspects something has happened but doesn’t know what to do about it. The four get back to the city. The blonde friend is up for a repeat the following Sunday, but after the young man makes the date, his friend reminds him they have tickets for a soccer match at the same time as the date. Will the young man choose to keep the date or go to the soccer match? The film ends without an answer. But the fact that there is room to speculate says something about the fecklessness of youth, yes?
There is some disagreement about how much Wilder contributed to the script. God knows his later films are filled with betrayals.
Though the bulk of the attention is given to the four, the film also pays a good deal of attention to the activities of others in the park, so the four are seen within the context of the variety of ways Berliners diverted themselves.
I doubt you’re surprised when I say that I couldn’t help wondering about what became of these crowds of frolicking Berliners during the nightmare of the next 20 years. Who would collaborate with the Nazis, who would be persecuted, who would die in a rotten cause, who would die in a heroic cause, who would survive with honor, who with guilt?
Also, there is a lot of footage of the streets of Berlin, and photos of the town in 1945 attest to the likelihood that few of the blocks seen bustling with shoppers and strollers in the film still stood 15 years later. Watching the film with a knowledge of what was to come lends a poignance to the gaiety onscreen.
According to Wikipedia, the producers of Babylon Berlin ran the film for the company to give them a taste of the demolished world they were going to revive in the series.