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‘Adam’ and ‘Berlin’: Banned German Treats

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Goethe Institute’s remarkable “The Forbidden Films” series of six East German films banned since the mid-'60s concludes Tuesday at its headquarters, 5700 Wilshire Blvd., with a terrific 1965 double feature, Egon Gunther’s “When You’re Grown Up, Adam” (at 5:30 p.m.) and Gerhard Klein’s “Berlin Around the Corner” (at 8:45 p.m.).

The first is a distinct departure from the others in the series in that it is in color and a sharp political satire employing fantasy. And unlike the others, it was actually released, though in a butchered form. What Gunther has done is to insert photos of sections of his and Helga Schutz’s script (translated via English subtitles) for these lost portions, giving us a notion of the severity and capriciousness of the East German censors.

One day a little boy named Adam (Stephan Jahnke) walking along the Elbe in Dresden encounters a swan, which presents him with a flashlight. Very quickly Adam and his father (Gerry Wolff), an engineer at a manufacturing company, discover it is no ordinary flashlight: When its beam is directed toward an individual who is telling a lie, that person suddenly finds himself flying up in the air. Wen applied to East German society and industry, Adam’s “lie torch” casts a dangerously revealing light. It is hard to imagine how Gunther, who wasn’t allowed to write let alone shoot a sequence that has the “lie torch” applied to Army recruits, ever hoped to get by with this exuberantly irreverent comedy.

Klein and his gifted writer Wolfgang Kohlhaase had intended “Berlin Around the Corner” to be a fourth installment to their hugely successful and much discussed “Berlin Trilogy” (1953-58). There is, in fact, much of the working-class vibrancy of Fassbinder’s “Berlin Alexanderplatz” in this film, which introduces us to a young metal-processing-plant worker (Dieter Mann) and his pal and co-worker (Kaspar Eichel).

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Gradually, the film moves from their hopes, dreams and pursuit of girls to their increasingly rebellious stance toward working conditions at the factory, which is antiquated, falling apart and dedicated to paying younger workers less than their seniors. As an ominous generation gap widens, Klein moves away from the two young men to involve us in the lives of two of the older workers.

What gives this film its enormous poignancy and special warmth is that Klein and Kohlhaase are able to see all four men in the round and extend equal compassion to both generations.

Information: (213) 525-3399.

A Pair of Chaneys: The Silent Movie, newly equipped with 35mm projectors, is presenting Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. a fascinating Lon Chaney double feature, “The Ace of Hearts” (1921) and “The Unknown” (1927), which reveal how very much both Chaney and his material had developed in a mere six years.

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Directed efficiently by Wallace Worsley, the first film is a fable about the transforming power of love notable for the sheer intensity of Chaney’s presence, for the restrained elegance of Cedric Gibbons’ sets and for the beauty of cinematographer Don Shott’s black-and-white images. Chaney, Leatrice Joy and John Bowers play members of an ill-defined, apparently left-wing secret organization dedicated to executing the truly evil. Bowers has drawn the ace of hearts in a pack of cards, designating him the executioner of their next victim, which instantly makes Joy fall for him, eroding his sense of purpose.

All of this is even more preposterous than it sounds, and it is intended only to show off what would become a Chaney specialty, an expression of unrequited, self-sacrificial love.

Chaney found in Tod Browning his greatest director, an artist of equal compassion and penchant for the bizarre. A tale of repressed passion with a mind-boggling plot twist, “The Unknown” finds Chaney, in a portrayal of extraordinary pathos and dexterity, cast as an armless wonder, a circus star who uses his feet as a knife-thrower and a sharpshooter whose human target is Joan Crawford, a gypsy who flaunts her sexuality yet has an aversion toward men. She does, however, respond warmly to Chaney, the one man who can’t molest her.

Seen today, “The Unknown” seems extravagantly Freudian, and one can only wonder about the degree of innocence with which it was made.

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Information: (213) 653-2389.


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