The Devil Strikes at Night (Nachts, wenn der Teufel kam,1957)
Produced and directed by Robert Siodmak
Screenplay by Werner Jörg Lüddecke
Based on the book by Will Berthold
Cinematography by Georg Krause
Edited by Walter Boos
Music by Siegfried Franz
Distributed by Gloria Film
(1:37) Noir City International, AFI Silver, streaming
When a Hamburg maid is murdered during the final year of WWII, the Nazi authorities believe they have found the culprit in what appears to be an open-and-shut case. Yet they have an awkward problem: the leading suspect is a fellow Nazi.
Axel Kersten (Claus Holm, left), a former German officer demobilized due to a war injury, arrives to investigate the murder. Even though they have a suspect, wouldn’t it look better if the Nazis could pin the crime on a non-Aryan? Kersten is respected as a fellow Nazi, but his determination to discover the truth makes his superiors nervous.
I could get into more of the subplots, but that would spoil much of the mystery and suspense of the film. I found myself so caught up in the story that I forgot to take notes as I normally do. Perhaps one Siodmak’s greatest (and not always mentioned) strengths is his ability to tell a visually compelling story. (Of course, he usually has great writers working for him as well.) The Devil Strikes at Night has a wonderful flow, conveying information about character, motivation, and a logical progression of actions. In a Siodmak film you almost never say to yourself, “Why are they doing that?” or “That couldn’t happen,” or “This is unbelievable.”
As much as I love Siodmak’s Hollywood films from the 1940s, I know little of his later work, having seen only Escape from East Berlin (1962), a compelling race-against-time escape story, but not his best work. The Devil Strikes at Night was the third film Siodmak made upon returning to his home country in 1955 after escaping the Nazis in the 1930s. Although he missed the direct experience of many of those years of Nazi rule, Siodmak clearly understood what life was like back home. The Devil Strikes at Night acts as something of a payback to the regime who forced him (and many others) to flee his homeland. The film was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, losing to Federico Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria.