STAGE AND SCREEN
" Professor Mamlock." At the Academy.---.. Dodge City." At Warner's.—" Five Came Back." At the New Gallery.
Professor Mamlock is a Soviet film which attacks the brutality of the Nazi revolution. Played with sincerity by so many " Honoured Artists of the Republic," breathing an honest Indignation against the political racketeers who put Dimitrov in the dock, the picture would have seemed a fortnight ago rather more moving. History has travelled fast : we are reminded too often in the first half of the film that the ideo- logical argument is made more of wind than stone. But I think in any case the first half-hour would have proved dis- appointing : like so many worthy middle-brow novels, it has about it the air of a Foyle Luncheon ; the characters are all caught at their most abstract, talking like Left Book Club speakers. The theme of a story should never be expressed so plainly ; argument is valueless in fiction unless it is dramatic and individualised. For a long time we feel little interest in Professor Mamlock, the Jewish head of a Berlin hospital, who disapproves of politics. To discover in the blood of a patient the right germ is the important thing, and he urges his son, who is also his assistant and an ardent Communist, to take as his models Koch and Pasteur. But he isn't alive ; he is just a martyr type, until argument ceases, and we watch him paraded through the streets in his rubber gloves and his surgical dress marked with the word Jew, the victim of his assistant, a vicious, jealous little figure in pince-nez, who has been appointed Commissar of the hospital.
The dead wood in this picture is divided from the live by the night of the Reichstag fire : enormously impressive the noisy radio followed by shots of rain-wet silent streets : hardly anybody about, except a few little groups of scared people scurrying home, and at intervals the squads of Brown Shirts marching heavily on unknown errands. This is real cinema ; and so are the last-minute attempts to hide the evidence, the papers burned in stoves, the picture taken down from over the bed, while the lorry-loads of Brown Shirts draw up to the kerb below. All that is more or less silent in this film is first-class ; it is only when the characters talk too glibly of their ideals that we lose touch with the truth, and there is very little talk after the Reichstag fire, except in the final shots when Dr. Mamlock arraigns the armed Gestapo guards from the balcony of the clinic. in the name of humanity (but not, we know now, in the name of Communism), and is shot down by a machine gun.
Dodge City is a good example of the Western formula ; pioneers build new city, racketeers build gambling hells ; pioneers, though outnumbering gunmen a hundred to one, are all old men with Bibles, old ladies sewing shirts for the little ones, the little ones themselves, poor widows, and a few mortality types : straight-shooting cowboy is asked to become sheriff, refuses, sees child killed, accepts, cleans-up. There is always one moment of excellent drama when cowboy advances slowly towards gunmen along sidewalk or across square (see The Virginian and Stagecoach). Personally, I never tire of these pictures, and Dodge City is well acted, well directed, and the technicolor is excellent, except at sunset. My only complaint is that we see rather too much of the girl in gingham (Miss Olivia de Havilland) in comparison with the bad girl (Miss Arm Sheridan), who is entrancing in colour. One thing has never ceased to puzzle me in Western films ; the racketeers always shoot the mortality types back, front, side- ways, whether he carries a gun or not, without hesitation. You'd think anyone could get a man that way, and yet the hero never has to bother about people shooting him unawares. He's usually caught at least once unarmed, and then he's just warned off.
Five Came Back is a welter of mortality types ; twelve people are travelling on an aeroplane which crashes in an Andean forest. One falls off first, which leaves six to dispose of, and the only fun in an absurd picture is spotting who will be liquidated. I did make one mistake : the golden-hearted prostitute didn't die nobly, shielding the little boy ; she made good in a more professional way.