[Originally published in Movietone News 33, July 1974]
No one can accuse Maximilian Schell of being unaware of the possibilities of visual form in the cinema—or rather, that visual form can have something to do with discovering and elucidating Truth. His earnest direction of The Pedestrian comes much nearer some sort of expressiveness than Rolf Nölte’s treatment of The Castle, which Schell co-adapted and -produced with Nölte, and starred in, a few years ago. Close, but kein Zigarr. For The Pedestrian is more portentous than profound, framing between two episodes of soft-focus—or lost-focus—scrutiny of hazily symbolical fossils an attempt at moral self-scrutiny, of a powerful German industrialist and, by not very tentative extension, his country.
Heinz Alfred Giese is arrested in time and space, reduced to pedestrian status in a fluid car culture because he has caused, “under mysterious circumstances,” the death of his own elder son while driving an automobile. The accident comes back to haunt him: was it an accident? did not his son perhaps seize the wheel at the last moment and attempt to take the father, from whom he had grown ideologically estranged, along with him? Other memories recur, Giese’s and others’, overlapping: memories of the war, and of a My Lai–like massacre in a Greek village in which Nazi officer Giese may or may not have been culpable to the extent of personally shooting a child in arms. His guilt is made public by a newspaper editor who doesn’t necessarily believe in it, but Giese is a big man, and making a big man look small sells papers and makes for stimulating publicity, and besides, there’s so much guilt lying around in the world….
The most telling visual coups in the film are more or less rhyming setups of Giese framed on three sides by a committee convened to assess his position as striking workers lay siege to his factory, and Giese civilly shaking hands all around with members of both parties to a TV panel discussion of his putative wartime guilt and its implications for contemporary German society; in both cases a public performance is satisfied and, for all the forensic—indeed, histrionic—passion on either side, the show avails nothing in particular save to resolve irreconcilable issues into a quotable ambiguity before signoff. Schell cuts back and forth across time, moves from objective declamation to subjective fantasy, even invokes the ghost of the son (played by Schell himself) to hold semi-realistic conversation with the father in a moment of reverie. The effect, both ultimately and from moment to moment, is to inculcate a sober but frustrating sense of non-event, relieved only by incidental niceties in the performances—most notably, of British director Peter Hall as the chief perpetrator of high-toned yellow journalism.
THE PEDESTRIAN (Der Fussgänger)
Screenplay and Direction: Maximilian Schell. Cinematography: Wolfgang Treu, Klaus König. Set Decoration: Hertha Pischinger. Editing: Dagmar Hirtz. Music: Manos Hadjidakis.
The Players: Gustav Ruddolf Sellner, Peter Hall, Alexander May, Christian Kohlund, Ruth Hausemeister, Maximilian Schell, Elsa Wagner, Dagmar Hirtz, Michael Weinert, Gila von Weitershausen, Norbert Schiller, Angela Salloker, Peggy Ashcroft, Elisabeth Bergner, Lil Dagover, Kate Haack, Johanna Hofer, Françoise Rosay.
Copyright © 1974 Richard T. Jameson