English Title: People on Sunday
Original Title: Menschen am Sonntag
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Directors: Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer
Screenplay: Billy Wilder
based on a reportage by Curt Siodmak
Music: Elena Kaets-Chernin, Otto Stenzeel
Cinematography: Eugen Schüfftan
Wolfgang von Waltershausen
A German silent curio heralds several future magnates of the film industry in Hollywood, PEOPLE ON SUNDAY is the debut feature for both its directors Robert Siodmak and Edgar G. Ulmer, with a script from a tender-age Billy Wilder and Fred Zinnemann in the camera branch. It is a bracing urban symphony of Berlin during the interwar times, confining its time-frame within a weekend, convenes a cast of five non-professional young actors (who are essentially playing themselves) and blithely breaking the boundary of studio lot and taking the story onto the streets of the metropolis, from a rush-hour Behnhof Zoo train station near the beginning to the movie’s main course, a Sunday outing in Wannasee.
The quintet are Erwin, a taxi driver, his model wife Annie, and his friend Wolfgang, a wine dealer, then Christl, a film extra Wolfgang accosts in the said train station and Brigitte, her friend, who works in a record shop. Throughout its simple plot structure, the narrative heartily proceeds with a bifurcating stratagem, a plump, honest-looking Erwin’s squabble-plagued marital life with a languorous Annie in their pokey bedsit, contrasting with a louche Wolfgang’s pat oscillation in wooing either Christl or Brigitte, furthermore, a tangible rift is wondrously evinced between the two flappers, Christl is the prim and proper type, who naturally spurns Wolfgang’s advances in the well-orchestrated lake-swimming sequences, but when she notices that Wolfgang takes his offensive towards a more skittish Brigitte and the two become lovey-dovey, she can barely contain her pique, not only to Wolfgang, but also to her girlfriend.
Yet, what leaves the most piquant tang is a thoroughgoing embodiment of machismo by the two male creatures, Erwin is the off-limits married man, both girls give him a decent berth, humbled by a comparatively more good-looking and athletic Wolfgang, he knows his role very well, a sausage juggler for laughter, a cavalier company, completely forgets about Annie’s absence when there are new girls around, but also seemingly attests that, when sex is off the table, girls are just girls, no further communication is worth his effort. Wolfgang is more or less more readable, cops a feel whenever he can find a chance but will not get his feet wet into a stable relationship, and if a girl becomes too pushy, there is always a Sunday football match he can attend with his buddy Erwin.
A lilting juvenilia robustly interpolates expressionistic portraiture and vignettes (there are some very impressive close-ups both in still and in motion should be attributed to the young but ingenious film crew) in all the larking and perambulating, PEOPLE ON SUNDAY can still turn heads not just as a chirpy comedy, but also, a counter-time escapist prose because unfortunately we cannot blot out the fact that something egregiously sinister was incubating in that touchy era and that particular country.
referential point: Richard Siodmak’s THE KILLERS (1946, 7.4/10).