Asphalt

Sometimes a film contains so many striking images that it seems impossible to turn away from it.  Silent movies demand more attention anyway, since they don’t rely on spoken dialogue to move  the plot along.  If you turn away, you might miss something important.

Betty Amman and Gustav Fröhlich

“Asphalt,” a 1929 German silent film directed by Joe May, tells the story of Officer Albert Holk, an honest and dedicated policeman who lives with his parents.  His father, a veteran police sergeant, and his mother provide integrity and moral authority to their dutiful son.  But when Albert busts the beautiful and sexy Else Kramer (played by Betty Amann) for a jewell theft, he breaks his ethical and moral code to have an affair with her.  His weakness leads to tragic results.

Joe May’s direction highlights Betty Amann’s every nuance, including her lovely and expressive wide-set eyes.  Amann’s look is similar to Louise Brooks, but with much less innocence, at least in this role.  Holk, played by Gustav Fröhlich, seems unable to save himself as we see his resolve weakening.  After his fall from grace, he quickly resigns himself to the consequences, but the ending comes as a bit of a surprise.  The pacing and efficient storytelling serve the plot well.

The opening scene of Berlin’s road repair crews tamping down wet asphalt and the subsequent Berlin street scenes prove to be very engaging, and the cinematography is excellent throughout.  As the road crew uses asphalt tampers to pound the ground, the letters of the film’s title come up in “dripping” letters one by one. Joe May left the Ufa company, which made Asphalt, and came to Hollywood to direct such films as “The Invisible Man Returns” and “The House of Seven Gables,” both made in 1940 for Universal and both starring Vincent Price.

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