A Foreign Affair (1948)

Billy Wilder directs Jean Arthur, Marlene Dietrich and John Lund in this romantic comedy set around the dark backdrop of a shelled out, black market post-war Berlin.

There are some graceful comedic storytelling beats here that rocket fuel this bitter love triangle. A personalised birthday cake that makes its way around the black market. Jean Arthur’s investigator pretending to be a dumb fräulein to get two horny GIs to show her the real Berlin. A seduction involving filing cabinets and the ride of Paul Revere. Wilder just has a lovely cinematic hand, that no matter how grim the setting or twisted the characters’ true intentions, he lets them dance their quasi-romantic little dance in impressionable, inventive ways. Arthur and Dietrich are superb, though Lund as the man they circle, is a bit of a place holder. The setting, including real location filming of decimated and occupied Berlin, gives Wilder the chance to land some unguarded blows about the German situation. He has very little sympathy for the Nazis and their silent collaborators, but acknowledges the corruptible weakness of all humans. The final scene has a pointedly chilling moment. The American commanding officer tells a bunch of carousing Russians to go home… they pay little heed. Wilder understood the nastiness of what had happened before and saw the next darkness in Germany’s future. He comments consistently on Berlin’s precarious and compromised existence yet it all feels organic to the seductions and powerplays of our kissing and hustling leads.

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