If you combined this wet asphalt with a femme fatale, a hopeless web of intrigue, and a little chiaroscuro, Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger says you might have a noir.
There are many reasons why we love DVD: crisp audio and video, extra content, obscure films shown in their original form. This release of Wet Asphalt sidesteps all that. To add insult to injury, Dark Sky Films labels it a "lost noir," probably because film noir is hot right now. Well, Wet Asphalt is decidedly not a noir. It isn't even much of a drama.
Essentially, Wet Asphalt is a hokey picture about a tall tale that spirals out of control. Martin Held (The Serpent) does his best James Dean as Cesar Boyd, an imprisoned reporter who is released early. He's picked up by Jupp (Gert "Auric Goldfinger" Fröbe), the personal chauffeur to newspaper magnate Greg Bachmann (Horst Buchholz, The Magnificent Seven). It seems that Mr. Bachmann wants someone young and talented to do the legwork and write his stories for him, while he takes the sole credit. Cesar agrees, mostly because he has no other choice. He makes good money and travels the world.
When Bachmann's niece Bettina (Maria Perschy, General Hospital) comes to visit, the pair forgets to wire a story to their waiting customers. One thing leads to another, and a tall tale becomes the world's hottest news story. Cesar is trapped in the middle of it all—if by trapped you mean nearby and loosely associated with the story. Will he find his way out of this ill-fated labyrinth of lies and deception? Or will Bettina knit him a pretty noose and hang him from a rolled-up newspaper?
The Wet Asphalt DVD has a lot going against it. First is the ridiculous assertion that it is a lost noir. It is lost because no one has much interest in it, and Newsies is more noir than Wet Asphalt. This marketing mishap leads us into an entirely inappropriate frame of mind to appreciate the film. Another roadblock is the soundtrack. You may or may not know that Gert Fröbe's lines were dubbed in Goldfinger. Here you'll have no doubt: The entire cast is dubbed amateurishly from the original German track. I'm no linguist, but I'd bet that a German-to-English dub is hard to lip synch. Why not simply give us the original German audio track with English subtitles? Then the DVD would at least seem legitimate instead of farcical. Perhaps Dark Sky Films could not find an original language print. If so, they desperately need a disclaimer that promotes the cheesy goodness of this film and explains the dub-only nature of the release.
But the heaviest albatross is the film itself. Wet Asphalt somehow manages to be both linear and meandering at the same time. The story goose steps along in a predictable rhythm, but throws in preposterous sideplots to bog down the gait. Political machinations of the newspaper industry take up what seems like 100 minutes of the film's 89-minute runtime. Scenes of mass chaos and rioting can barely mask the cart of hot chocolate and doughnuts waiting for the extras offscreen.
By the time the film wrapped, I couldn't wait for the obvious denouement to play out. Bachmann develops a creepy jealousy over his niece Bettina in the last act (who, by the way, goes from perceptive to dull and back again in the blink of an eye). Cesar is warned that he is putting himself in peril, only to have the resolution follow in the next scene. Wet Asphalt could have used much less newspaper politics and much more "I'm afraid for my life" tension. If you're going to have padding, why not pad with excitement rather than boredom?
Maria Perschy actually acts, lending her scenes a placid approachability amidst a sea of melodramatic strutting. Buchholz smarms. Fröbe flushes. Held glowers.
The DVD quality is fair-to-poor. The video-sourced transfer has alternating bands of light and dark in the background, while extensive combing mars all motion. Otherwise, the transfer is clean and has moderate contrast. The dub job is antiseptic and poorly synched, but is free of major distortion and pops. There are no extras—which are practically required if you are claiming a film as a lost noir.
Wet Asphalt is guilty of impersonation.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Dark Sky Films
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