DIRECTED BY HELMUT KÄUTNER/1944
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: FEBRUARY 23, 2021/KINO CLASSICS
Starring matinee idol Hans Albers, this film was made toward the end of the Second World War by the Third Reich movie machine. It was a rarity—a cast which didn’t really care very much for the Nazis and shot in Agfacolor. It also didn’t receive a German release until after the war because Goebbels didn’t like it.
Albers plays Hannes, a sailor who has obtained employment as an entertainer on land. His brother’s dying wish is that Hannes would take care of his girlfriend for him after his death. After Hannes lectures his brother in an emotional scene, Hannes reconsiders and goes to find Gisa (played by Ilse Werner). Hannes falls in love with Gisa but feels the pull of the sea as well. Does Gisa love Hannes? Will they end up happy at the end?
The film itself has undergone a wonderful 4K scan and restoration using negatives and prints roughly contemporaneous with the film’s initial domestic release. The audio is crisp and the music fun to listen to. The nightmare sequence is a wonderful injection of avant-garde filmmaking, bringing a pseudo-color atmosphere with it. I found myself wondering how it was accomplished even while I was fascinated with the story it was telling. The lighting is compelling and painter-like, especially in the way Albers’ eyes are lit in key scenes.
Film is not merely mechanics—it is also compelling storytelling and acting. This film has all of the above. Albers and Werner shine in their respective roles. Commentator Olaf Möller calls John Wayne the American Albers and I do believe him to be correct. Ever the man of action but not outward thought, Albers’ character figures out what he wants and then moves until he can’t anymore, setting up a persistent picture of masculinity which appeals to more than just American audiences. Werner plays an interesting foil to Albers; she is neither worldly-wise nor childishly naïve. Each performance is honed by Käutner and is a tribute to his direction as much as the actor’s acumen. Hans Söhnker’s brooding competing lover is played with all the angst a man in love might have.
Port of Freedom is a beautiful work of art and a shining example of filmmaking. This beautiful edition from Kino Lorber, which drops today, is an excellent addition to any film collector’s library.