If you arrived at this review by way if my Facebook feed, then you need to click the link above to get last week;s review. The reason I did not link to True Confessions on Facebook is because Facebook insisted on selecting an NSFW image. Enjoy.
This Wednesday’s movie comes by way of a different route—it’s not streaming on one of my Internet services. I recorded it a few years ago from Turner Classic Movies, and I feel the need to feature it now, because its 70th anniversary is drawing nigh, and the anniversary of the events has arrived. From 1950 it’s The Big Lift, a story based on the Berlin Airlift at the onset of the Cold War. Some history is necessary.
After French and British forces in Europe were defeated by the invading German army in 1940, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill refused Adolf Hitler’s demands for a cessation of hostilities. Hitler began to make plans for the invasion of the British Isles, and the Battle of Britain began—an air war. German planes began to bomb British airbases, and the inadvertent bombing of London initiated retaliation by the British on Berlin. The bombing of the German capital by allied forces continued up to the Russian assault on the city in 1945. The Russian battle to defeat Berlin’s defenses completed the almost total destruction of the city. Berlin had a population of 4.3 million at the start of the war in 1939. At the cessation of hostilities the population was 2.8 million, and that increased to over 3.1 million by 1947 due to the influx of returning civilians. And that was the setting at the time of the events in this movie.
The Wikipedia entry for this film states that all remote scenes were filmed in occupied Berlin, including in all four of the zones of occupation. All American soldiers appearing in the movie are active duty personnel, except for lead actors Montgomery Clift as T/Sgt. Danny MacCullough and Paul Douglas as M/Sgt. Hank Kowalski. Details are from Wikipedia.
Following their victory over Nazi Germany in May 1945, the four conquering powers, France, Great Britain, the USA, and the USSR, divided the country into four zones of occupation. Separately Berlin was, itself, divided into four zones. The city was entirely within the Soviet zone of occupation. Shortly the alliance with the Soviet Union broke down, as Stalin made increasingly overbearing demands, initiating the Cold War. The first crisis of the Cold War came in 1948, when the Soviets, seeking to wrest control. blockaded highways, railways, and canals connecting Berlin to the other zones of occupation, leaving the Soviet-occupied zone as the only source of supply for the city. The plan was obviously to starve the city into submission and to take complete control. Here we see a (possibly dramatized) barrier being lowered over a road, blocking a supply truck into the Soviet zone.
American response was immediate. We next see American armed forces personnel at movies, parties, and elsewhere being interrupted by orders to report immediately. They are briefed on the operation to supply Berlin by air, the only channel the Soviets failed to block.
Air crews begin to arrive for duty.
In Berlin Sergeant MacCullough participates in a staged presentation as the first supply planes land. He is presented with a loving thank you from Frau Frederica Burkhardt (Cornell Borchers), a war widow. She is delicious.
Sergeant MacCullough participates in other staged displays of friendship between the Americans and the German civilians. It was important to win the hearts and minds of people who might want to accept Soviet rule.
But MacCullough is intrigued by the comely Frau Burkhardt, and he goes searching. He finds her at working loading debris into a bin. All between 18 and 55 are required to work on the reconstruction. In an early communique after Germany’s defeat General Dwight Eisenhower told the Germans they had created this situation, and Americans would not help them to clean it up.
It is likely this is actual footage of Germans working to clear the rubble. Americans came to admire their defeated enemy. Of all the ravaged countries in Europe, the Germans seemed most eager to get to it and to clean up the mess they had brought on themselves.
I saw this in my home town movie theater when it first came out, and two scenes stuck in my mind during the past 69 years. One is this. There was food and other stuff to be had in the American sector. People would travel from the Soviet sector and bring back daily necessities and some treasures, one being coffee. The Soviets objected to this, and they confiscated this contraband when they could. MacCullough and Frau Burkhardt are traveling on the subway into the Soviet zone, where she lives. At the border the train stops while East German soldiers search for contraband. The woman on the left has a packet of coffee, which she intends to exchange for coal when she gets home. The “fat” man on the right advises her to hide it in her hat, and she does. But when the soldiers come, they can smell coffee, and they demand to know who has the coffee. The fat man tells them the woman has it, and the soldiers seize it, and they leave. The others are totally pissed at the fat man, but after the soldiers leave he reveals his own stash, which the soldiers would have found if he had not given up the woman’s coffee. He shares his largess with the others.
The other scene that stuck with me is this. Sergeant Kowalski was a prisoner of the Germans during the war, and he spies his former guard and corners him on a lonely street. He recalls how the guard used to give him German lessons, using the butt of his rifle to discipline Kowalski when he was too slow to learn. Now Kowalski turns the tables on the German, who is not allowed to fight back.
All this does not go well with the authorities, however, and there is a mad scene as Kowalski’s friends help him elude the police.
There is also the debacle involving Frau Burkhardt over which sector she is in and in which sector she belongs. There is a tussle at a place where an imaginary line on the ground demarks the boundary.
The romance with Frau Burkhardt falls apart spectacularly. She has been coaxing MacCullough to marry her and to take her to the United States.. But she has an ongoing liaison with another American soldier, now repatriated. Her plan was to marry MacCullough and then divorce him once she got to America. And that’s the end of the story.
There were three air routes into Berlin, and the airlift kept all of them busy to the extent possible. A continuous train of cargo flights followed each route into the city, leaving no room for mistakes. If a plane missed its landing it had to fly back with its load and get back into line.
Immediately after the Soviets lifted the blockade, Allied forces started running trucks into Berlin by way of the Autoban. In the meantime Seventeen American and eight British aircraft was lost, with 101 crew casualties, mostly due to non-flying incidents.
In 1961 the East German government erected a wall to separate their sector (inherited from the Soviets). That wall came down in 1989, and the divided German state was made whole again.