This one I had to wait around to see. I didn’t see it when it came out in 1961, and there is probably a reason. About that time I was getting off active duty with the Navy Reserve and starting college. It’s Town Without Pity, starring Kirk Douglas. What first brought this to my attention was the theme song. Herb Alpert did a rendition and featured it on one of his albums. When the movie popped up on Amazon Prime Video I gave it a look. It’s not a bad production, and only a few flaws give me trouble. Screen shots are from Amazon Video, and details are from Wikipedia.
You know this is going to be a bad situation. It’s a small town in Germany, post World War Two, and four soldiers from an American base head into town for a few hours of drinking and carousing. Having soaked up a few, they head out, going nowhere in particular.
At the river nearby, a young German lass, Karin Steinhof (Christine Kaufmann), and her boyfriend, Frank Borgmann (Gerhart Lippert) are carousing in quiet seclusion. She wants more. Frank wants to hold back. His mother objects, he says. Karin accuses Frank of being a mother’s boy and swims across the river to get dressed. She strips off her bikini and flexes her charms.
The four drunken soldiers spy her obvious appeal and give her no opportunity to object. Young Frank hears her cries and swims across the river to investigate. He finds she has been raped by the four.
There, of course, needs to be a military trial for the soldiers, who have taken no steps to conceal their crime. The local military commander is eager to placate the Cold War ally and points out that the United States military offers the death penalty for rape, whereas the new German government has abolished the death penalty all around.
Major Steve Garrett (Kirk Douglas) gets the job of defending the soldiers. One of his first encounters is radical journalist Inge Koerner (Barbara Rütting), who also narrates the story. There may be sexual tension between the two, but it goes nowhere in the movie.
Hey! One of the soldiers is Corporal Jim Larkin, played by Robert Blake, eventually to be, himself, on the dock for a more serious crime.
Major Garrett has the unpopular job of defending four men whose guilt is not in doubt. The most he expects to accomplish is to spare the men the death penalty. He has means he can exercise to defer the death penalty, and he, uncharacteristically for a defense attorney, ensures the prosecution knows what will be required to obtain the death penalty.
And this is where the Town Without Pity comes in. It becomes apparent the town and the Army are more protective of their honor than they are in protecting the victim. Especially, the town is willing to sacrifice the teenage girl to uphold a whimsical principle.
A special treat to all TV fans of that era. E. G. Marshall is a lawyer again as prosecutor Colonel Pakenham.
Karin’s father, the local banker, will not relent. To obtain the death penalty, his daughter must testify and be subject to all the ridicule Major Garrett can bring to bear. And, in the weeks prior to the trial, he has enough opportunity to comb the town and find material to use against her. For example, she has lied in her story about the attack. She told that she had only her top removed when the men attacked her. Major Garrett obtains the garment in question and demonstrates what would have happened if she had been wearing the bottom when the men ripped it off.
Sure enough, Karin breaks down under cross examination and cannot continue. The soldiers are sentenced to prison but avoid the death penalty.
The girl is humiliated and mocked in the town. She and Frank attempt to flee on his motorcycle, but his mother has the police arrest him for forging a check. He is stopped by the police, and Karin turns to face the hostile town. She drowns herself in the river.
Yeah, there is something seriously wrong with continuity. Not wanting to be indelicate, but… But Frank hears Karin’s cries. He immediately swims across the river. The men have already finished with her. Not being an expert in these matters, but I find that hard to believe. Four men, all getting their rocks in at most two minutes. And following an afternoon of drinking? Only a rework of the script could save this absurdity.
I know the defense attorney in a trial for rape will revert to vilifying the victim where possible, and even where not. And it’s the prosecutor’s job to stymie these defense efforts to the extent possible. In this trial prosecutor Pakenham makes absolutely no effort along these lines. It would have added little plot dilution to have Pakenham chime in from time to time, asking the judge to admonish the defense counselor.
Christine Kaufmann was no newcomer to film when she appeared here at the age of 20. This was followed by a long career, continuing into 2008. Douglas is still alive at 99. Robert Blake began his career playing an Indian boy and a Mexican boy and went on to portray a troubled killer in In Cold Blood. He became most famous as an undercover police detective in a popular TV series, but his trial for the murder of his wife effectively ended the public’s taste for him.