DM-Killer (1965)

+++ Just before Christmas, three crooks get released from a West Berlin prison. In the booming German economy they try to hustle their way into some money while staying on the right side of the law for once. Still, their cunning ways and shifty expertise help them to proceed with their enterprise – from “cutting out the middleman” to “fake it until you make it”, they employ it all. But eventually they will have to realise that members of the “honest” business world can also play hardball. +++

DM-Killer is billed as a comedy; but it is a “hustlers’ drama” first, and a comedy second. It is also a (somewhat belated) satirical look at the society and mentality shaped by Germany’s Wirtschaftswunder. This German-Austrian co-production is based on the novel Ehrlich Fährt am Längsten by Peter Norden.

It is a big production full of German stars and character actors of the time. The three leading roles are filled by Curd Jürgens, Walter Giller, and Charles Regnier, playing characters with vastly different personalities. The leading female supporting roles are played by Elisabeth Flickenschildt, Daliah Lavi (Casino Royale), and Elga Andersen.

Further supporting roles are filled by Balduin Baas, Hubert von Meyerinck (One, Two, Three), Erica Beer, Tilo von Berlepsch, and Ivan Desny. Famous Austrian character actor Fritz Eckhardt plays a US business-man and valiantly tries an accent that comes and goes.

The most surprising aspect about this black&white film is its entirely shameless and open portrayal of sexual activity. With “open”, I do not literally mean open, but “barely hidden”. And the sexual activity covers a wide field from premarital sex, to threesomes, to prostitution.
Of course the film was only released for audiences of 18-years and older; but I am still surprised at the brazenness of the portrayal and the fact that this made it past the certification process at all. If I were to see this in a film from the early 70s, I might not even notice it; but seeing it in this 1965 German film (which was not a progressive niche film, but clearly aimed for some mainstream appeal) really surprised me. Because this is not the type of sexual humour you would see in a British “naughty” comedy of the time, with a wink and a nod and lots of double entendre; in spite of all the absurdity that is included in DM-Killer as well, this is mostly a cold and merciless portrayal of sex as a commodity that is for sale.
And I suppose that this is the argument that pushed this past the censors. Amongst other things, this film does – one might argue – criticise society’s hypocrisy about sex, while it is also setting prostitution in relation to capitalism. The argument might have been that you cannot censor these scenes, as it would amount to political censorship and not be merely a decision about propriety or decency.

It is certainly not a coincidence that this film was directed by Rolf Thiele, who had directed the prize-winning 1958 social drama Das Mädchen Rosemarie, which chronicled one of Germany’s biggest sex scandals. Thiele had returned to the themes of sex and hypocrisy again and again since that film, and so it might be his touch (– he had a hand in the film’s script as well –) that gave DM-Killer this peculiar tone.

Whatever the filmmakers thought they were doing here – satire, social realism, kitchen-sink drama – in the end the entire enterprise, which involves a number of beautiful young actresses like Christiane Schmidtmer, merely gives the film a strong misogynist touch. And you know that your satire has misfired when it comes across as the thing that you set out to criticise.

While the depiction of sex seems tonally off, it is linked to other failures of satire in this film. The film takes no real aim. Some businessmen in this film display a certain amount of greed, but satires of this calibre usually depict the “honest” businessmen as more corrupt and more criminal than the criminals themselves. That is not the case here. The “honest” businessmen are pale side-characters.
There is somehow also not enough meat to the plot, there is not enough “scheming” (which is what you hope for in a story like this) and no clever plot twists. And when the film finally ends, it does so not with a bang, but a whimper.

If you are looking for entertainment, there are certainly better films from that era. What makes this film interesting is the fact that it exists in the way it does, with all its flaws and missteps.

Rating: 4.5 to 5.0 out of 10

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