Jacques Tourneur made his name directing excellent low budget horror movies for producer Val Lewton. By the late 1940’s Tourneur was moved into RKO’s A list and had just directed the brilliant Out of the Past. He followed it up with Berlin Express in 1948.
The plot follows a group of multinational individuals as they take the Berlin Express, a train that takes people into Germany from Paris in postwar Europe. Robert Ryan is an American agricultural expert who is assigned to help work on the food shortage in Germany. Merle Oberon is a French secretary who is traveling with a German national Paul Lukas who is trying to unite Germany under a peace accord. Evil Germans are trying to kill Lukas before he can give a speech. Ryan and Oberon enlist an Englishman, a Frenchman and a Soviet soldier to help Lukas.
The film is an exceptional thriller but the movie’s biggest draw is the authentic look at postwar Germany. The producers gained access from the U.S. military to shoot footage in war torn Frankfurt and Berlin. The cities are massive sections of crumbling buildings with large groups of German citizens scrounging and bartering for food.
The film has earned the film noir label and the gritty cinematography certainly helps the label but the film has an upbeat and optimistic look at postwar Europe. Despite all the intrigue and assassination attempts the film seems to say that everyone can work together despite the cold war that had already started.