This classic 1961 film is as current today as it was in the time of its release, and a guarantee you’ve never seen a film like this one! A German couple’s flirty yet innocent day at the lake takes a dark turn when Karin, the young girl is gang raped by four American GIs. Or is she? The action appears off screen and the viewer is left to decide what happened. 

With post-WWII tensions thick in the air the enraged villagers demand justice. Through the US military court system a convicted crime of this level can result in a death sentence, but only if the victim testifies. Kurt Douglas, plays Major Steve Garrett, the defending lawyer who is stuck between his want to protect Karin and also save his men from hanging.  Swooping in the scene is Trude, a local gossip columnist determined to get the scoop from Douglas.

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Rather than listen to Douglas’ pleas to save Karin from more heartbreak, her father is determined to seek the death penalty even if it means putting his daughter through post-traumatic stress and into a slut-shaming trap. As the case continues, the town becomes more divided on Karin’s virtue as a media storm and idle gossip begin to spiral out of control.

The resulting witch-hunt, is unfortunately very contemporary and feels like a current film in many ways.  The film was released under United Artists, the studio that took the biggest risks and this film is certainly shocking. Its not every film that openly discusses rape, let alone a film over fifty years old!

Town Without Pity is unique in its dual language format. Most of the German characters speak German to each other, without subtitles but with the occasional yet spare voiceover of reporter Trude. Yet, Trude’s voiceover is never exact translations, rather its her sensationalized interpretation of the events as they unfold, as she chooses what she wants the viewer to know, only as she wants to tell it. This format is difficult to watch at first, but becomes fascinating as it mirrors the frustrations of two different culture clashes in the midst of a legal battle.

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The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song, but was released in the same year as West Side Story, which dominated the 1962 Academy Awards. Unfortunately this film was critically overlooked despite a poignant performance from a troubled Douglas. Perhaps the film was too controversial for audiences, becoming forgotten over time. Thankfully it is being released by Simply Media! Take a chance on this film, it is well worth your time with it’s an original story that takes a lot of chances with its difficult themes.   

 Town Without Pity is available on DVD from March 16 via Simply Media.

By Riley Arthur

Riley Arthur is an American photographer and journalist living in Preston.