In 1929, in a Berlin still in full artistic bloom—not yet ravaged by economic devastation or National Socialism—a group of young filmmakers pooled their creative resources to make a movie. The director: Robert Siodmak, who later found fame in Hollywood with dark-toned thrillers like The Killers and Criss Cross. His assistant: Edgar G. Ulmer, who went on to make the even-darker crime pictures Detour and Strange Illusion. The script was by Robert’s brother Curt, a science-fiction/horror novelist who later wrote the screenplays for The Wolf Man and I Walked With A Zombie. Curt was assisted by Billy Wilder, whose résumé as a Hollywood writer/director is peerless. And helping out behind the camera? Fred Zinnemann, the future director of High Noon and From Here To Eternity. The film these men made together—People On Sunday—doesn’t bear much resemblance to the work they did later. It’s a little slice-of-life about a quartet of urbanites enjoying a day by the lake, played by non-professional actors and intercut with documentary footage and nods to the avant-garde. But it’s an impressive enough film that it’d be historically significant even if its crew had vanished into obscurity.
Specifically, People On Sunday feels like the missing link between exuberantly arty films like Man With A Movie Camera and Sunrise, and the subtler poetry-of-the-everyday practiced by Jean Renoir and the Italian neo-realists. People On Sunday features fun experimental interludes in which Siodmak and company play with superimpositions and wild camera movements; and it also features portraits of ordinary people hanging out in the park, people playing field hockey, and men having some strange staring/funny-face contest. Between the documentary elements and the experiments, People On Sunday sports a sweet little story about a man and a woman on a first date, each with one of their best friends in tow. Much of the movie consists of good-looking youngsters engaging in the rituals of flirtation, exacerbated by their flesh-exposing swimsuits (with their not-so-sturdy shoulder-straps). A lot of the appeal of People On Sunday is tied to the unintended irony of these happy young Germans enjoying themselves with war (and worse) lurking right around the corner. But even more than that, the movie works because the story on the screen and the story behind the scenes is one and the same: a tribute to the boundless enthusiasm of youth.
Key features: A detailed 30-minute documentary about the making of the film, and a breezy, visually playful short film by the movie’s cinematographer, Eugen Schüfftan.