The Two from the South Express

Original Title: Die Zwei vom Südexpreß. (Im Schatten der Zugspitze.) Modern drama 1932; 77 min.; Director: Robert Wohlmuth; Cast: Trude Berliner, Ernst Busch, Otto Wernicke, Paul Westermeier, Harry Hardt; Emelka-Tobis-Klangfilm.

Engine driver and stoker, good comrades for years, passionate mountaineers. They encounter a flirt. She wants to marry the older one without spoiling her relationship with the younger one. The younger one sees through her and is suspected of betrayal by his friend. While the men get caught in bad weather during a mountain tour, she goes off with someone else.

With a roar and rumble, the express train races along the tracks, heading towards its home station. For ten years, two good friends have been keeping watch over the lives of their passengers on the massive express locomotive: Karl, the train conductor, and Hans, the stoker. These two magnificent guys are equally popular among their colleagues and superiors.

When they reach the home station, Karl and Hans proudly look down at the hustle and bustle in the station hall. It is at this moment that Marie appears—a pretty young girl with playful eyes who has only been a chocolate vendor for a few days. The guys are drawn to Marie, and she likes Karl and Hans as well. They arrange to take a little stroll in the evening, but Marie shows up with a slight delay, having secretly escaped from her aunt.

The small group decides to visit a dance event at an inn where Mr. Mayer presents the latest Parisian fashion models. Karl buys Marie a dress, and while she tries it on behind the stage, a dispute erupts between Mayer and one of his models. Mayer throws the girl out and needs a replacement. Marie catches Mayer’s eye, and despite her torn dress mishap, she agrees to temporarily showcase the “grand evening gown.” However, Marie’s train is stepped on, and the dress tears apart, leaving her standing among the laughing crowd in just her slip. Mayer, who orchestrated the mishap intentionally, convinces Marie to continue traveling with him.

Karl and Hans accompany Marie home, but while Karl is genuinely in love, Marie seems to have more feelings for young Hans. After a month, Karl and Hans return home, with Hans participating in the sports festival for the jubilant railway sports club. Marie has also come back, having escaped from Mayer, who is not a pleasant man. At the train station, she encounters Karl, and they go for a coffee. Karl is overjoyed to have found Marie again, and he proposes to her. Marie accepts, but Karl needs to return to his machine one last time, while Marie goes to the sports field and witnesses Hans winning the 1,500-meter race. She congratulates him and hugs him, but she doesn’t mention her engagement to Karl.

In the evening, Karl appears at the garden party, having quickly bought engagement rings and a cigarette case for his friend Hans. The engagement is celebrated, although Hans, who previously believed Marie loved only him, wants to leave the party. However, Karl asks him to stay, and Hans congratulates Karl, even though it hurts him.

The next morning, the three of them embark on a mountain journey as Karl and Hans take their vacation. They climb higher and higher, experiencing the overwhelming magnificence of nature. Marie talks to Karl, who is filled with joy, but behind his back, she attempts to reconnect with Hans. Karl senses something is amiss, but Hans dismisses his suspicion. Hans, however, has seen through Marie and wants to warn his friend against this marriage, but Karl refuses to be convinced.

In the evening, they reach the cabin where Marie is staying. Before her door, Karl and Hans say their goodbyes. Marie requests a cigarette, and Hans hands her his case. Marie goes to sleep, and early in the morning, Hans sneaks out of the room. He finds Marie and asks her to leave Karl for his sake, not wanting his friend to be unhappy. Marie, however, wants to be taken care of since she has no home, money, or job, and she doesn’t want to return to Mayer.

During their conversation, there’s a knock at the door. Karl arrives to greet Marie, and Hans climbs out of the window while Marie opens the door and welcomes Karl. Karl notices a burning cigarette in the ashtray but doesn’t say anything, as suspicion against Hans arises. Karl and Hans decide to leave Marie in the cabin and go on a mountain tour. Hans points to an edelweiss sprig on his hat, picked early in the morning, forgetting to wish Marie good morning.

During their lunch break on the glacier, Hans pulls out his cigarette case and offers Karl a cigarette. This reminds Karl that Hans had given the case to Marie the previous evening, leading him to become convinced of his friend’s and his bride’s infidelity. Karl confronts Hans but refuses to listen to any explanations. The truth will be decided in the valley below.

The descent is difficult, and both men have to risk their lives for each other, their old friendship still binding them. When they finally reach the valley, Marie is no longer in the cabin. A bank director has taken her away, promising her a good life filled with extensive travels, cars, and clothes. Hans is happy, but Karl still suspects his friend.

During the nighttime journey of the express train, Hans tries once again to convince Karl of his innocence. A terrible fight ensues between the two men, and the train races through the night without a driver. In the last moment, Hans manages to bring the train to a stop, but he has struck Karl with the coal shovel. At the station, Hans says nothing about the brawl, only reporting the sudden discomfort of the train conductor.

Hans visits Marie, asking her to return to Karl, but she refuses and returns the engagement ring to him. Karl also looks for Marie, going to the hotel and learning from the porter that Hans had told the truth—Marie is forgotten by him as well. With a roar and rumble, the express train races through the night along the tracks. Two good old friends, Karl the train conductor and Hans the stoker, keep watch over the passengers’ safety on the mighty express locomotive.

-g.’s review in Film Kurier No. 211 (September 7, 1932)
Not a comedy, not an operetta, not a crime film: such a work stands out today from the framework of production. That’s how far we’ve come with the thematic schematization through sound film. While some subject areas are exhausted, others go unnoticed.

Josef Than has placed people of today, flesh and blood people who think and act like us, at the center of his film. There are two friends, a locomotive driver and a stoker, who have been traveling their route together for many years. They meet a girl, a flirt, as one of them realizes after a few hours. But the other, trusting and in love, falls for it and soon has engagement rings in his pocket. It takes a long time for him to see the truth; their friendship has almost been destroyed in the meantime. But in the end, the two ride together again, happily venturing into the world.

Robert Wohlmuth’s direction is decent, clean craftsmanship, nothing more and nothing less. It doesn’t fully exploit the material’s potential, but it also stays away from the banal. The film is occasionally quite funny, with a sports festival cleverly used as a background for impactful scenes. A welcome surprise is a trip to the mountains, with beautiful nature shots.

The casting of the main roles is fortunate. Otto Wernicke plays the older, dutiful official who believes that the world is as honest as his own thinking. The dramatic scenes of disappointment are gripping. With this film and Die verkaufte Braut [The Bartered Bride], Wernicke has made significant progress. Ernst Busch gives his colleague the knowing superiority of youth; you can’t fool this down-to-earth young man easily. The sassy Trude Berliner embodies one of the girls who consider themselves particularly clever and cunning, believing they exploit men without realizing that the process is reversed. The role suits Berliner well, and she received strong applause at the end. Also starring: Paul Westermeyer, Harry Hardt, and Therese Giese.

The technical aspects are good: cinematography by Koch, Illig, Wirsching; set design by Ludwig Reiber; sound by T. W. Dustmann. Despite many chefs, the music is decent. Compositions by Friedrich Junge, hits by Jurmann and Kaper, lyrics by Fritz Rotter. Musical direction by Hans Wenning.

All in all, a film that many moviegoers will be satisfied to find is finally “something different.”