Climb Every Mountain

Luis Trenker – Alpinist, film director, architect, actor. photographer: Atelier Binder – property of Ullstein Bild – Atelier Binder/Everett Collection

Rarely seen in the U.S. and not one of the better known films about a famous mountain-climbing expedition, The Challenge (1938) is an intriguing bridge between the German mountain films of Arnold Fanck (White Hell of Pitz Palu, 1929) and contemporary man-against-nature survival tales such as Philipp Stozl’s Northface (2008), where two Germans and two Austrians try to scale the Eiger in Switzerland, and Kevin Macdonald’s documentary reenactment Touching the Void (2003), the ill-fated trek by Joe Simpson and Simon Yates up the face of the Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. Luis Trenker, one of the stars of The Challenge, was honored in person at the Telluride Film Festival in 1983 at age 90 and Turner Classic Movies aired the film in one of their Telluride programming tributes in 2010. The Challenge was also offered on The Criterion Channel.   Continue reading

The Darling of Berlin

Eva Renzi makes her screen debut as an international model in Playgirl (1966), directed by Will Tremper.

A new kind of female protagonist emerged in the sixties who was free-spirited, independent, hedonistic and willing to exploit her beauty and charm for social advancement without being categorized as a typical prostitute. Audrey Hepburn certainly set the standard as the unconventional Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) but other famous examples include Julie Christie’s self-absorbed model in Darling (1965) and Genevieve Waite’s wide-eyed waif in Joanna (1968). Lesser known but a distinctly German variation on this prototype is 1966’s Playgirl (also known as That Woman in the U.S.) featuring Eva Renzi in her feature film debut.  Continue reading

Voyage of Doom

A former actor from Austria turned film director, Georg Tressler is not a name familiar to most American movie fans but for German filmgoers of the fifties he created a sensation with this 1956 feature film debut, Die Halbstarken (released in the U.S. as Teenage Wolfpack). As topical, incendiary and controversial in its day as The Wild One (1953), Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and Blackboard Jungle (1955), Die Halbstarken was a hard-hitting portrait of juvenile delinquency in post-war Germany and featured Horst Buchholz as a manipulative gang leader in a performance possibly inspired by James Dean. It was a huge hit and led Tressler to follow it up with two more youth-oriented films – Noch Minderjahrig (Under 18, 1957) and Endstation Liebe (Two Worlds, 1958). His fourth feature, Das Totenschiff (Ship of the Dead, 1959), was a complete departure from his trilogy in terms of content and was mostly ignored by critics and the public. But timing is everything and today Das Totenschiff looks like a lost classic from the pre-Berlin Wall era. And it may very well be Tressler’s finest achievement.    Continue reading