NIGHT PEOPLE (1954) is a Cold War thriller set in 1950s Berlin when the city was controlled by the four powers, America, Britain, France and Russia. There is no Berlin Wall yet, but relations between the western allies and Russia are precarious.
A young U.S.army corporal, Johnny Leatherby ( TED AVERY) is kidnapped by the Soviets in West Berlin and offered in exchange for an elderly German couple.
GREGORY PECK is a counter-intelligence officer, Colonel Steve Van Dyke whose job it is to negotiate the young soldier’s release.
BUDDY EBSEN , as Eddie, is the Colonel’s right hand man, and RITA GAM is Ricky Cates, Van Dyke’s secretary.
Before Steve can get to work, he has to contend with the kidnapped soldier’s father, Charles Leatherby (BRODERICK CRAWFORD) who is a wealthy business man from Ohio who immediately flies to Berlin and demands action.
Van Dyke is prepared for him and says, “So you’re the guy who came over here to tell me how to do my job.”
Leatherby thinks he can wheel and deal and buy his son’s release. But he is told, “This is a situation where your money is not of the slightest importance.”
Van Dyke tells him, “These are cannibals – head hunting, blood thirsty cannibals who are out to eat us up.”……”Do you have much experience in swapping human beings?”
(Not much propaganda there!)
Van Dyke assigns his best informant, ‘Hoffy’ Hoffmeyer (ANITA BJORK) to find out what how the trade will take place. (The two have ‘history’ together.)
One of the few outdoor locations .
Van Dyke takes Leatherby to a night club and shows him the couple the Russians want – Leatherby sees a grey haired lady playing piano , and her husband, who is blind, sitting at a nearby table.
JILL ESMOND (Laurence Olivier’s first wife) is impressive in the small role of Frau Schindler whose husband is a German general. One of the plot twists is that Jill Esmond’s character is not German. She is an English woman who had married before the war. This gives Van Dyke more diplomatic problems.
Even then, Leatherby doesn’t care, he just wants his son back, at any cost.
The plot builds up to an exciting climax in the U.S. military hospital where the exchange is due to take place.
I wish Rita Gam had been given more to do. She is wasted in a small role.
Buddy Ebsen injects a lighter tone to the serious story and I liked him a lot.
Also in the cast:
Peter Van Eyck, Max Showalter, Walter Abel.
The happy ending. Leatherby is reunited with his son ( and his son’s German girlfriend, played by MARIANNE KOCH.)
This is a film I always enjoy watching , with my most recent viewing on the Kino Lorber blu ray. It was the first film which writer Nunnally Johnson directed. ( He also produced and wrote Night People.)
Twentieth Century Fox made the film in Germany, though the use of locations in Berlin were far too limited. In fact most of the film was set indoors , with interiors filmed in a Munich studio.
Such a waste, even if the company may have been limited in what they could film on the streets of Berlin.
So the argument that Fox made the film abroad for tax reasons makes sense. Studios could use so called ‘frozen funds’ to make pictures. (European countries restricted the amount of currency that studios could return to Hollywood.)
I have to admit there are a couple of things in the film which I didn’t understand, so I hope I might get some comments on the following .
We are told that the ‘other side’ took the chance of kidnapping an American soldier in order to get hold of an anti-Nazi German couple who had been involved in the plot to kill Hitler. Some mention is made of some of Himmler’s men being behind the kidnapping.
Why would the Soviets agree to this plan?
And, as one reviewer said, why didn’t they just kidnap the couple!
Also, why does Van Dyke(Gregory Peck) go to all the trouble of getting poison at the end of the film?
Were colour and CinemaScope necessary? I could see this story in stark black and white.
Am I asking too many questions!
I liked NIGHT PEOPLE and would recommend it. Not a stretch for Peck, but he plays it well and is surrounded by a fine supporting cast.
Ooh! A Gregory Peck film I’ve never seen. I shall keep an eye out for this one. Love him and Buddy Ebsen. Great review.
Hope you like it.
Love the spy thrillers of that era.
Lots to view like Notorious or The 39 Steps – or even Shack out on 101.