2008-02-28 17:47:58 ET

It's no secret that I love silent German expressionist movies from the 1920's. "Metropolis", "Nosferatu", T"he Cabinet of Dr. Caligari", that kind of thing. They're beautiful and creepy, and just some amazing films that still look great today. But did those mad geniuses at Ufa ever make anything that wasn't scifi/horror? Apparently yes.

"Asphalt", one of the last of the wave of expressionist film, is the story of an honest cop and the girl who seduces him. Basically Albert Holk (Gustav Frohlich) is a good kid and upstanding police officer who busts a Louise Brooksian shoplifter (Betty Amann) at a jewelry store. She manages to convince him to swing by her place so she can pick up her papers. She tries and fails various plays at his sympathy, so she "seduces" him in exchange for letting him go (although it looks for all the world like she flat out rapes him). Afterward he hates himself for betraying the badge and she runs into some problems of her own, and the drama begins.

Okay, let's just get this out of the way. The story is crap. It's cliched and silly, and we've seen variations on this a million times, and the fact that it was made eighty years ago is hardly an excuse. It's cheesy melodrama. I'm personally amused by the title. It doesn't actually have anything to do with the story, yet it seems to be trying for a "Tales of the Naked City" sort of idea.

Despite its thematic failings, it's a great movie to look at. Like most of the expressionist films, they got very creative with their imagery. There isn't anything like the beautifully bizarre set designs of "Dr. Caligari", but the camera work and editing have some wonderfully inventive moments. Most notable is the very subtle direction in the seduction scene. Director Joe May gets a lot of mileage out of the looks in Betty Amann's eyes, at least until she attacks the poor kid.

So I have mixed feelings on this one. It doesn't begin to compare to the great expressionist horror films, but there are some beautfiully directed moments. Fraulein Amann is the Weimar It Girl, and a joy to watch. Also keep an eye out for the best ever use of a Pekingese dog statue.

2008-02-28 20:14:02 ET

never trust a Betty.

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