THE AMERICAN SOLDIER is not so much a pastiche of noir as a noirish dream incurred by watching American gangster films of the fifties and sixties.
The plot is basic: Ricky (Karl Scheydt), a German-American Vietnam Vet returns to Munich and is hired as a contract killer by three policemen. The whodunnit element is negligible. There is no suspense.
The psycho-sexual elements are heightened. It’s all songs and smoke, fedoras and phone booths, a romance of futility, of dark forbidden desires, laced with whiskey and ennui, that lead to death.
Your future’s all used up.
There are innumerable references to crime films, of which my favourite is the Dietrich ‘your future’s all used up’ scene from TOUCH OF EVIL (Orson Welles, 1958). It’s full of personal references, not, I suspect, meant for a general audience: the prostitute who falls for Ricky played by Elga Sorbas is called Rosa von Praunheim, after the director who would soon release IT IS NOT THE HOMOSEXUAL WHO IS PERVERSE, BUT THE SOCIETY IN WHICH HE LIVES (1971). The film is self -referential. The nightclub the characters go to is the ‘Lola Montes’, just as in GODS OF THE PLAGUE(1970); Ricky goes to visit his old home, in front of which are railings exactly like the ones the characters of KATZLEMACHER sit on throughout much of that film.
Like in Almodóvar’s work, where a scene in one film is developed into the main plot of a later one, here we get a chambermaid (played by Margarethe von Trotta, the celebrated director) who comes into Ricky’s hotel room as he’s making love to Rosa, sits by the bed, and tells us the story of what will become ALI, FEAR EATS THE SOUL (1974) .
There’s luminous black and white cinematography by Dietrich Lohmann that adds to the incantatory quality in the film, and seen to advantage in this very beautiful restoration. The acting seems posey and theatrical, though that too adds a symbolic dream-like dimension to the drama. There are moments that seem awkward and amateurish. Some of the compositions seem well thought-through, others merely grabbed, but this too adds to the film’s dream logic. It’s less a pastiche than a dramatic rendering of personal fantasies and desires that are rendered vividly, sometimes even graphically, but remain inchoate. Murnau, Clark Gable and Batman are referenced. I loved it, though I don’t know if I would have had I not already been immersed in Fassbinder’s world.