One of the last notable silent German films, PEOPLE ON SUNDAY was a landmark in the development of the docudrama form, using a neorealist documentary technique, authentic locations, and non-professional actors to tell a simple story about a day in the life of two German couples. The film's
greatest claim to fame is the extraordinary concentration of, then unknown, talent who contributed to its making: the Siodmak brothers--Robert and Curt, Billy Wilder, Edgar G. Ulmer, Fred Zinnemann, and Eugene Schuftan.
The film is virtually plotless, basically following the romantic misadventures of a taxi driver and his married salesman friend as they spend one Sunday trying to pick up a shopgirl and a model. Their flirtations take them from the bustling streets of Berlin to a beach on the Wannsee lake, where
they spend a lyrical day swimming, playing, and attempting to make love with the girls, then return to their drab lives in the city at the end of the day.
Shot quickly and on a very low budget (less than $1,000), PEOPLE ON SUNDAY is moderately interesting as a film, but fascinating as a social, historical, and cinematic document, authentically capturing the atmosphere of 1920s Berlin and its countryside. The exact nature of its credits has always
been difficult to ascertain, with the different contributors variously listed as being responsible for direction and writing, but Fred Zinnemann claims in his autobiography that Robert Siodmak was the director, Edgar G. Ulmer his assistant, and Billy Wilder was the writer, while Zinnemann admits
his own contribution was merely "to carry the camera around and stay out of trouble." Wilder's scenario was not so much written as it was conceived, based on discussions he had with Curt Siodmak at the Romanisches Cafe, a famous gathering place for artists in Berlin. The idea was to realistically
depict the unglamorous lives of ordinary people, using non-professional actors and real locations, eschewing the artifice, melodrama, and heavy psychology of typical German films. The great cinematographer Eugene Schuftan, who won an Oscar in 1961 for THE HUSTLER, and who invented the famous
Schuftan process shot, (which used a mirror to combine live-action with miniatures and painted sets), shot the film with a hand-held camera in a fresh, freewheeling style borne out of necessity, that prefigures the Italian neorealist movement of the 40s, as well as the French New Wave of the '50s.
The budget was so low that the cast and crew traveled to location by bus, and Wilder and Siodmak would take the exposed film to the lab to be developed at night, which once resulted in losing three days worth of footage when they had an argument and inadvertently left the negative on the bus.
The film's creators would all go on to Hollywood careers of varying styles and success: Robert Siodmak became a master of film-noir thrillers (THE KILLERS, CRISS CROSS, PHANTOM LADY, et al.), while his brother Curt excelled as an author of sci-fi books and movies (DONOVAN'S BRAIN, FRANKENSTEIN
MEETS THE WOLF MAN, THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS) and also directed some minor films. Ulmer became a cult director for such stylish low-budget classics as DETOUR (1945) and THE BLACK CAT (1934), but never escaped the realm of B-films, and of course, Wilder and Zinnemann both went on to great
success and legendary careers, creating a number of classic films. (Sexual situations.)
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- Rating: NR
- Review: One of the last notable silent German films, PEOPLE ON SUNDAY was a landmark in the development of the docudrama form, using a neorealist documentary technique, authentic locations, and non-professional actors to tell a simple story about a day in the life… (more)