As the Russian officer turns to leave the American, German, Englishman, and French woman he has met on the Berlin express, he lets fall to the pavement the card bearing the American's address. An insidious fear begins to creep up on the moviegoer; surely this allegorical film of our times is going to justify all the advance publicity given it by the Hearst press. But "Berlin Express" is an American film and all must still be for the best; the Russian alights from the jeep, picks up the card, smiles for the first time during the picture, and waves goodbye to his new friends. The fear gives way to an overwhelming glow of relief.
Whether or not you care for the allegory, "Berlin Express" is still an unusual and interesting film. Hollywood has combined its own mastery of technique in moviemaking with the mature semi-documentary approach so often used to advantage in British films and has produced a picture that brings along with its message a realistic portrayal of Germany as it is today.
Contrived as may be the plot of five assorted nationals who come to know each other and cooperate for a common cause, the film otherwise derives so much strength from its realism that the illogical coincidences are almost forgiven. The first striking device employed to lift the picture out of the depths in which American movies usually remain mired is the use of French, German, or Russian whenever they would ordinarily be spoken. While never employed so as to confuse the plot, the languages lend an authenticity that is seldom realized in motion pictures. Then, as the scene moves from the streets of Paris, which actually are the streets of Paris, through Gare de l'Est and via the Berlin express into Germany, the marked degree of authenticity is preserved at all times. While the camera seems to have focused with a morbid fascination on those areas of Frankfort and later Berlin that are complete devastation, it also picks up along the way the petty black marketeers of the railroad stations, an "Off Limits" nightclub, and the I. G. Farben building--untouched by Allied bombs, which the narrator carefully explains spared the building for later use as a headquarters.
All the while the plot does manage to work its way not over obtrusively into this pictorialization of post-war life. The acting by Paul Lukas, Merle Oberon, Robert Ryan, and others is adequate and at times even rises above this epithet, but the picture itself surpasses any individual performances.