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Case Number 24314: Small Claims Court

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The Devil Makes Three (1952)

Warner Bros. // 1952 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge P.S. Colbert // August 12th, 2012

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All Rise...

Judge P.S. Colbert once asked for directions to the Judengasse. Boy, did he wind up with Prezhinitse all over his ponem!

The Charge

Cruise the Autobahn! See Hitler's Holiday Hideaway!

The Case

What's the first rule in determining a property's value? Location, location, location.

That's certainly the case with The Devil Makes Three, an otherwise standard postwar potboiler greatly enlivened by location shooting in West Germany, then still largely reduced to rubble following Allied bombing campaigns.

Christmas 1947: Captain Jeff Eliot (Gene Kelly, Anchors Aweigh) returns to Munich, planning to spend the holiday with the Lehrts, a local family of three who selflessly hid him from the Nazis and helped him escape to safety four years earlier.

His dreams of a happy reunion are shattered upon discovering the house was blown to smithereens not long after his escape, Mutter und Vater Lehrt along with it. But what of daughter Wilhelmina, the sweet, lively fifteen year old Eliot playfully nicknamed "Willie"? According to records, only two Lehrts were found among the debris. Could Willie be out there, still alive?

After a bit of investigation, Eliot locates Willie (Pier Angeli, The Silver Chalice), now laboring in the Silhouette Tanz Bar as a Deutsche Mark-a-dance-girl. He's surprised by her undisguised bitterness, but can you blame her? What did helping out an Allied bomber pilot do for her family but cause death and destruction, leaving its surviving orphan to turn tricks for survival?

Nevertheless, in the best tradition of American GI's, postwar film vintage, Eliot determines to rescue poor, misled Willie from her sordid existence and…what, exactly?

While he tries to figure that last part out, Willie softens up enough to ask him for a ride to Salzburg, so that she can spend Christmas with a family she's maintained close ties with since childhood. Eliot doesn't have a car, but Willie knows where he can rent one at a good price, and soon they're off to happier times. Actually, they're off to make a scheduled delivery of smuggled goods, part of a plot that has Eliot unwittingly helping to rearm the Nazi party, who—with Willie's help—are secretly planning a comeback.

What begins as a nifty little idea for a espionage thriller then disappointingly morphs into a caper on automatic pilot, full of chase scenes, shoot-outs, and a climax that would be entirely unremarkable but for the fact that it takes place in the standing ruins of The Berghof, Hitler's mountain retreat in the Bavarian Alps (which would be razed by the West German government shortly after this film wrapped).

However, worse than shifting into action autopilot is the lame-brained insistence on shoehorning a love interest between Eliot and Willie, apparently for no other reason than: a) This is a standard postwar MGM release, and b) He's a guy and she's a girl.

Aside from the fact that Kelly and Angeli are both skilled, attractive actors (albeit with enough age difference to make the idea of their coupling very creepy!), there is absolutely nothing about these characters that indicates either one of them would so much as consider a second date.

Speaking of dates, Warner Archive brings this long-forgotten relic out just in time to celebrate its 50th anniversary. The remastered black and white 1.37:1 standard definition print holds up surprisingly well, though a couple of rough spots remain (including a pair of splices so drastic they almost qualify as jump cuts), while the Dolby 2.0 Mono mix is sturdily effective. No subtitles have been provided, but the original theatrical trailer has been included, and provides some (unintentional) camp value.

Though deserving every bit of the drubbing its gotten, The Devil Makes Three breezes in and out quickly enough to avoid causing boredom, features an appealing cast, and some particularly wonderful musical moments. As a time-capsule, the film nearly rivals Wolfgang Staudte's The Murderers Are Among Us for capturing the face of war torn Germany before reconstructive surgery.

The Verdict

Guilty of turning a good idea into pure numb-skullduggery.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 75

Perp Profile

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• None
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1952
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
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Distinguishing Marks

• Trailer


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