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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street (Dead Pigeon on Beethovenstrabe) (Blu-ray)
Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street (Dead Pigeon on Beethovenstrabe) (Blu-ray)
Olive Films // Unrated // April 19, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted May 5, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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The career of maverick filmmaker Samuel Fuller is, to say the least, a storied one. A crime reporter for the New York Evening Graphic from age 17 and a combat infantryman during World War II, Fuller's best movies, Park Row (1952) and The Big Red One (1980), are deeply authentic and personal reflections of those experiences.

He got his start directing in low-budget B-movies but quickly attracted the attention of big leaguer 20th Century-Fox where during the fifties he made interesting, A-level features of varying quality, the best of which are probably Pickup on South Street (1953) and House of Bamboo (1955). He later left Fox for Warner Bros., but that was an unhappy relationship; an attempt to make The Big Red One there in the early ‘60s came to nothing. Next, Fuller moved to Allied Artists, returning to his low-budget roots with a series of fascinating exploitation films, of which Shock Corridor (1963) and The Naked Kiss (1964) are the best, movies like no other. Fuller disowned Shark! (1969), a Burt Reynolds action film beset with all manner of disasters, including the on-camera death of a stuntman by the movie's title character. Fuller made no other films until The Big Red One was finally produced, marking the beginning of a fitful comeback and career retrospectives.

Usually omitted from Fuller filmographies is Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street (1974), a 127-minute episode of the West German TV police procedural show Tatort, one of the longest-running in television history, still going strong since its premiere in 1970. The offer was a token of appreciation by film critic Hans-Christoph Blumenberg, in appreciation for Fuller helping to set up interviews between Blumenberg and directors John Ford and Howard Hawks. Blumenberg apparently had some connections to Tatort and got Fuller the assignment.

The unusual production, apparently filmed in 1.33:1 standard ratio, nonetheless received a limited theatrical release in the U.S., albeit cut to 102 minutes and distributed by Emerson Film Enterprises, a minor outfit normally associated with Mondo-type sexploitation.

Olive Film's Blu-ray release offers an excellent restoration by the UCLA Film & Television Archive of Fuller's 127-minute cut, plus some fine extras that help put this unique work into perspective.

Something like a satirical Mike Hammer, fish-out-of-water yarn, the story involves American private eye Sandy (Glenn Corbett) investigating the murder of his partner, killed in West German while in possession of incriminating photos of an American political candidate, a la Britain's Profumo affair.

I confess to having seen no other episodes of Tatort. But it doesn't remotely resemble, say, the often delightful Edgar Wallace krimi of the sixties that preceded it. Rather, aesthetically, it's more in line with ‘70s British police and detective shows like The Sweeney, the excellent John Thaw-Dennis Waterman series (and two features) that soon followed.

Viewed cold, Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street (the actual onscreen title is Dead Pigeon on Beethovenstraße) is intriguing, surely, and emblematically Fulleresque, but not so great as entertainment. In dispensing with Totort's Kressin (Sieghardt Rupp), the film pairs him with Corbett for many long scenes where Rupp speaks almost exclusively in German (with no English-subtitle support) while Corbett delivers his lines only in English. It's almost like watching a spaghetti Western with English, German, Italian, and Spanish actors all talking in their native languages on-camera before everything was looped in postproduction. It's extremely unnatural and confusing; subtitles of the German dialogue would have helped a lot.

Later, the film becomes more than a bit leisurely as Sandy infiltrates English-speaking Anton Diffring's blackmailing operation, despite Fuller's many French New Wave- and New German Cinema-influenced flourishes (such as the film's title design, with much of the crew appearing onscreen in a series of visual gags). The displaced American wandering Cologne is certainly intriguing for its almost travelogue appeal, but the Mike Hammer-like bludgeoning of Sandy's investigation has limited interest in this context. Much as I adore Fuller's other work, this one put me to sleep more than once. It's playfully subversive and, as essayist Samuel B. Prime describes it, even Brechtian, but the intense stylization (breaking the fourth wall, in-jokes, etc.) too often gets in the way of basic storytelling and characterization, even as a spoof of the hard-boiled detective genre.

Ultimately, Dead Pigeon very much has the look of series television production, even as it resembles Fuller's earlier glories in other ways. There is, for instance, a potentially great scene where Sandy stumbles into a movie theater showing Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo dubbed into German (however, everything in the lobby suggests another movie entirely, Frank Zappa's 200 Motels!). Sandy, so disoriented in this alternate universe, is overcome with delight recognizing Duke and Dean battling bad guys. But, like much of the rest of the film, TV production methods can't quite pull that moment off and, like most of the rest of the picture, never really comes together.

Video & Audio

Visually, this restored Dead Pigeon looks great, especially considering its TV roots. (The U.S. theatrical release was likely 1.66:1 widescreen.) The audio is fine, too, though the absence of English subtitles for all that German in the opening act is disappointing. (Instead, the optional English subtitles read, "[speaking German]" during these bits.) The disc is region A encoded.

Extra Features

The supplements help enormously. They include "Return to Beethoven Street: Sam Fuller in Germany," Robert Fischer's documentary that includes interviews with Corbett's co-star and Fuller's widow, Christa Lang, as well as Eric P. Caspar, Wim Wenders, and others. There's a trailer and also enlightening essays by Prime and Lisa Dombrowski.

Parting Thoughts

Worth seeing, if as disorienting to the viewer as Sandy's experiences in Germany, Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street isn't all that good but certainly fascinating and emblematically Fuller, and the restoration and extras add a lot of value. Highly Recommended.

Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian and publisher-editor of World Cinema Paradise. His documentary and commentary, for the British Film Institute's Blu-ray of Rashomon, as is his commentary track for Arrow Video's Battles without Honor and Humanity boxed set.

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