Director: Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer
Starring: Erwin Splettstößer, Brigitte Borchert, Wolfgang von Waltershausen, Christl Ehlers, Annie Schreyer
Duration: 73 min.
This effervescent, sunlit silent, about a handful of city dwellers enjoying a weekend outing, offers a rare glimpse of Weimar-era Berlin.
People on Sunday is a silent film by Robert Siodmak, Curt Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer, and Fred Zinnemann, from a screenplay by Billy Wilder and photographed by Eugen Schüfftan. This was an independent and experimental low budget film collaboration created while they were still unknown young talents living in Berlin. Shortly before they would all flee Germany and make their significant marks in Hollywood.
The story follows five young Berliners over one summer Sunday at the beach in 1929. The entire cast consists of nonprofessional actors playing a variation of themselves, Wolfgang (Wolfgang von Waltershausen) a wine-seller, Christl (Christl Ehlers) a pretty film extra, Brigitte (Brigitte Borchert) a record store sales girl, Erwin (Erwin Splettstößer) a taxi driver, and Annie (Annie Schreyer) a fashion model.
For me the remarkable thing about this film is the wonderful portrayal of life in Berlin at that specific time. Mixed in with the images of our characters' day at the beach are a variety of scenes of other random people enjoying their own days out. It plays out like a captured moment of collective joy shortly before the decline of the Weimar Republic, and the events that would forever change the lives of everyone involved. Giving the film a significance which the filmmakers couldn't possibly have been aware of, but is something always in the back of the audience's mind.
Aside from the historical importance of this, it is a beautifully crafted film all on its own. Even though there isn't really much of a plot, and the editing flow of the scenes is disjointed at times. Most likely because the original film is lost and this version was pieced together using parts from several different sources. The overall look and feel, particularly of the outdoor scenes that make up the majority of People on Sunday, is much more realistic and natural than you would expect to see from a silent film of this era. This makes it easy to get immersed in the tone and setting.
People on Sunday is an obscure but noteworthy piece of cinematic history. An early work from a list of creative names who would all go on to have great careers in Hollywood, and a lighthearted look at Berlin in the golden era before the rise of Hitler.
— Bonjour Tristesse