Berlin Express (1948): Jacques Tourneur’s Noir Thriller, Starring Robert Ryan, Merle Oberon, and Paul Lukas

Jacques Tourneur directed Berlin Express, a noir thriller, starring Robert Ryan, Merle Oberon and Paul Lukas.

Berlin Express

Theatrical release poster

During the opening credits, a note reads, “Actual scenes in Frankfurt and Berlin were photographed by authorization of the U.S. Army of Occupation, the British Army of Occupation, the Soviet Army of Occupation.”

Thrown together by chance, a group of people search a city for a kidnapped peace activist.  Among the various people who board a U.S. Army train to Berlin are: Frenchwoman Lucienne Mirabeau (Merle Oberon); American agricultural expert Robert J. Lindley (Robert Ryan); Dr. Bernhardt (Paul Lukas), a renowned German activist working for peace and reunification of his country; Frenchman Henri Perrot (Charles Korvin); British teacher James Sterling (Robert Coote); Soviet Lieutenant Maxim Kiroshilov (Roman Toporow), and German businessman Herr Otto Franzen (Fritz Kortner).

Dr. Bernhardt tries to become acquainted with the other passengers, but they rebuff his overtures because he is German. When he retires to his compartment, he is killed by a bomb.

While the others are questioned in Frankfurt, they learn that the dead man was actually one of the doctor’s bodyguards. Bernhardt had been posing as another passenger, and Lucienne is his secretary.

Set in Allied-occupied Germany, the moviet was shot on location in post-World War II Frankfurt-am-Main and Berlin.

Thematically, the tale represents a typically Hollywood formulaic anti-Nazi film. However, the detailed imagery of war-ravaged Germany by lenser Lucien Ballard (Merle Oberon’s husband) is strikingly authentic, shown in almost  documentary style, conveying powerfully a grim picture of life amidst the shambles and ruins.


Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Produced by Bert Granet
Screenplay by Harold Medford
Story by Curt Siodmak
Music by Frederick Hollander
Cinematography: Lucien Ballard
Edited by Sherman Todd
Distributed by RKO Pictures
Release date: May 7, 1948
Running time: 87 minutes


I am grateful to TCM for showing the film on December 8, 2019.