Some people will say that for a movie to really fall into the category of film noir, it has to have been made in the US. I don't define the genre that stringently and feel that any country could produce a film that has the dark settings and ambiguous morality that noir films revel in. When Dark Sky's latest "lost noir" DVD arrived, the German made Wet Asphalt, I was very intrigued to see the German take on noir. I have already seen their other entry in the series, Without Warning, and found it to be a good film and the DVD to have high production values. It's too bad that this DVD didn't live up that one. I was disappointed in this disc for a few reasons. I wouldn't categorize this movie as film noir by a long shot and the DVD has some fairly strong digital artifacts. It is also missing an original language soundtrack. Taken together, this disc just doesn't have the appeal of their other 'lost noir' release.
Made in 1958 in Germany, Wet Asphalt looks at a country that's recovered from WWII for the most part, but still has some wounds that haven't healed. Greg Bachmann (Horst Buchholz) is a young and dynamic news reporter who has just been released from prison. Now a free man, Greg is immediately hired by a rich businessman, Cesar Boyd (Martin Held). Mr. Boyd hires Greg to write news articles for him, which he puts his name on and sells to foreign papers. He has a contract to come up with a sensational human interest story every Friday for a Paris paper, and they pay him well.
For years the arrangement works well, though Greg is started to resent that his name never appears on his work. One Friday evening though, Greg and Boyd don't have a story to send to Paris. After hearing an old war story that his chauffeur told, Boyd fabricates an article. According to the story, five German soldiers were found in an old German bunker in Poland that was filled with supplies. The entrance to the bunker had been dynamited while the men were inside, and they had existed on the canned food for years. All of the men except one died, and the lone survivor was blind.
Boyd doesn't let anyone know, especially Greg, that the story is false and sends it off. Little could he imaging the impact the story would have. Soon it took on a life of it's own with marches on the Polish embassy to release the blind survivor, and many people flooding into the Red Cross sure that the living soldier is a relative. It doesn't take long for Greg to start suspecting that the story isn't as accurate as Mr. Boyd would have him believe though.
This was a fine film, but it wasn't a film noir. The setting and locations weren't dark and shadow filled, there wasn't any real crime, and the main female character wasn't a villainess. More than that though, it didn't feel like a noir. In noir films the main character is often fighting against a situation that threatens to overwhelm him. The protagonist usually has some significant character flaws too, and the plot often takes surprising turns. None of these apply to this film.
Ignoring the noir label, this is a competent if unexciting film. I never really got a feeling for who the characters were. If Boyd was so rich, why did he need someone to ghost write newspaper articles for him? Why was Boyd's niece even in the film, and what was his relationship with her? It was implied that Boyd was sexually interested in her, but it was very vague. The film was definitely plot driven, but the simple plot of a man discovering that his boss faked a news story just isn't that gripping. It was interesting to see how German's saw themselves after the war though.
This German film is dubbed in English, and the original soundtrack is nowhere to be found. I was very disappointed to find that Dark Sky didn't include the original soundtrack. I can only assume that they couldn't locate a print with the German soundtrack. The English track was average for a film this old. There wasn't as a large amount of range, and the occasional distorted fragment, but these were rare. There was a little hiss in the background, but it was at a very low level.
The dubbing was another matter. Though the actors who preformed the English version tried to put some emotion into there voices, the fact that the words didn't synch with the mouth movements was distracting. Not the worst dub I've ever seen, but not a good one either.
The full frame image was mediocre. There were a few spots and one torn frame that I noticed, but aside from that the print looked fine. The contrast was good, and the level of detail was fine, but there was a good amount of grain and mosquito noise in the image. Aliasing was also a very prevalent, especially when the camera pans and at the beginning of the film. It's too bad that the digital defects were so pronounced, this adversely effected the quality of the disc.
Unfortunately, there are no extras on this disc.
No matter what the label says, this isn't a film noir movie. A standard drama, Wet Asphalt is about average for a late 50's drama, but the DVD is marred by poor production. It is very disappointing that the original audio track wasn't available on this disc, and they digital defects were more pronounced than they should be. It would be best to skip this DVD.
I really enjoyed the other Dark Sky releases that I've seen. This disc really isn't a good example of their output. I recommend that noir fans check out their other "lost noir" title Without Warning.