Review: Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street

[Originally published in Movietone News 29, January-February 1974]

Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street is Sam Fuller’s Godard movie. The title is gradually pieced together (cf. Pierrot le fou), there is a scene in a movie theater where the hero grooves on hearing John Wayne in German in Rio Bravo (cf. Boetticher’s Westbound with an Apollinaire soundtrack in À bout de souffle and Jack Palance’s orgiastic response to a cinematic bathing belle in the screening room of Le Mépris), there is a plethora of clique-y movie jokes (e.g., a one-scene appearance by Stéphane Audran as a certain Dr. Bogdanovich), and the director’s wife is featured in all her punishing ineptitude (there’s even a nearly subliminal flash of her playing a scene with Akim Tamiroff in Godard’s Alphaville). Besides these factors, none of which is exactly ignorable, the movie parodies its own narrative homeground to a fare-thee-well. After a bang-up opening in which a dead pigeon and a dead man and a wounded assassin named Charlie Umlaut all fall in Beethovenstrasse, in fist-in-the-kisser images slammed into a very jagged rhythm, Fuller gives us a shot of a pair of bare soles being wheeled down the corridor of a morgue. Looking above and beyond them (which is hard), we see Glenn Corbett and a West German cop and, of course, a morgue attendant; Corbett’s voice is droning on, in four lines piling up enough hyperchromatic exposition to occupy most films for a reel. Indeed, for a moment we can’t be sure whether Corbett is telling this to the German cop or doing a Spillane-style voiceover for our benefit.

So far, so invigorating. Fuller’s sense of outrageousness does not desert him for the remainder of the film, but his capacity and quite possibly his desire to maintain faith with us bums in the audience does, at an increasingly stumbly-legged gallop. Your downtown, sock-it-to-me action flick fan may well be numbed into silence (the sparse audience I saw the film with had talked merrily to the cofeature, a program western, but had nothing to say to Dead Pigeon), and even a card-carrying Film Buff may start to resent the fucking-over. A man who can make crazy and coherent movies like Underworld U.S.A. and Shock Corridor shouldn’t have to resort to home-movie travelogues. And yet already I’m backing off there, for Fuller has worked that sort of thing into his pictures before (Shock Corridor again), and besides, the thrills, the snaps of ozone among the general effluvia of rot!—like the moment when CLICK! Corbett sees Christa Lang Fuller in a restaurant CLICK! he drops a pill in her coffee CLICK! we’re tilting down the Cathedral of Köln and there, seeming to float dreamily upright against it, are Corbett and a helper supporting Lang and ushering her casually … where? Then there’s the next-to-last scene, a duel between Corbett and ace bad guy Anton Diffring (a razor-sharp you-haff-relatiffs-in-Chermany? type), and Diffring is Errol-Flynn-good with an épée, and so Corbett … No, you have to see it to disbelieve it; but what I object to is: did the outcome of this marvelously mad sequence have to be so sloppy, so perfunctory?—madness ceases to be marvelous if the chaos is absolute. But the very last moment is so good, so symmetrical, so ballsy and upfront and Godardianly self-aware that it almost … it does! … make me yearn for another look at the whole arbitrary package. Not the least of its virtues is that it throws the careless copout of The Long Goodbye into devastating relief. Now that is a long goodbye!

RTJ

Copyright © 1974 Richard T. Jameson

DEAD PIGEON ON BEETHOVENSTRASSE
Screenplay and Direction: Samuel Fuller. Cinematography: Jerzy Lipman.
The Players: Glenn Corbett, Christa Lang, Anton Diffring, Stéphane Audran, Alex d’Arcy.