Friday, September 21, 2012

Classic Films in Focus: THE DEVIL MAKES THREE (1952)

Although Gene Kelly is best remembered today as the dancing star of musicals like An American in Paris (1951) and Singin’ in the Rain (1952), he did appear in other kinds of films throughout his acting career. Shot on location and released the same year as the iconic Singin’ in the Rain, The Devil Makes Three (1952) provides a solid if not outstanding example of Kelly’s occasional forays into more dramatic territory. The story, set in the ruins of post-war Munich, provides Kelly with plenty of opportunities for action and romance, with Pier Angeli as his beguiling costar.

Kelly plays American soldier Jeff Eliot, who returns to Munich after the war to find the family that helped him escape the Nazis several years earlier. The only surviving member of the family is Wilhelmina (Pier Angeli), a young girl who has fallen on hard times since her parents were killed by a bomb after Jeff’s departure. Jeff feels compelled to help Willie, but she lures him into a smuggling operation that takes a deadly turn when the Nazi affiliation of the smugglers is revealed.

The Devil Makes Three will remind many classic film fans of Carol Reed’s 1949 post-war noir, The Third Man, especially in the ruined landscapes and the final chase scenes. Both pictures benefit from location shooting in the bombed and battered cities of post-war Europe. Andrew Marton’s direction is generally more serviceable than artistic, but he captures the scenery and the action set against it quite well. Despite the title, The Devil Makes Three lacks the perverse attraction of a Harry Lime, but it does have plenty of Nazis, and there are several exciting sequences involving menacing motorcyclists.

Gene Kelly and Pier Angeli share a tense moment.
Kelly retains his usual charisma as the leading man, even if it’s strange to see him watch a number of dances without joining in. His good looks and athletic form make him a perfectly credible action hero, although Jeff Eliot is a pretty straightforward character to play, and his motives require little contemplation. More elusive is Pier Angeli’s fallen angel, Willie, who was just a kid when Jeff first knew her but is now a call girl and a smuggling ring accomplice. Only 20 when she made the film, Angeli precisely captures the look of a little girl thrust into a woman’s role much too soon. Like Jeff, we ache for her even when we least trust her.

Richard Rober, Richard Egan, Claus Claussen, and Wilfried Seyferth make up the supporting cast. Andrew Marton is best remembered today as the director of King Solomon’s Mines (1950). For more drama with Gene Kelly, try The Cross of Lorraine (1943), Marjorie Morningstar (1958), and Inherit the Wind (1960). See more of Pier Angeli in Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956) and Merry Andrew (1958). The Devil Makes Three is available on DVD from Warner Archive, along with Kelly’s other drama, The Black Hand (1950).

An earlier version of this review originally appeared on The author retains all rights to this content.

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