20 March 2007 | gerrythree
Fräulein Doktor Pretty Good War Movie, Could Have Been A Lot Better
After seeing again Fräulein Doktor on NetFlix streaming video (before I cut that service, thanks to its notifying me two days ago of its massive pricing increase in September), I realize that this movie was nowhere near as good as I thought for years. So I am making a massive rewrite of my previous very positive review of this WWI spy movie. As others here at IMDb have commented, that brief scene of soldiers on horseback marching onto a gassed battlefield is very impressive, the group of seven or so horses wearing horse gas masks and protective body covers. The problem is the closing scenes in the final third of Fräulein Doktor on or near the battlefield wreck this movie.
In the end, the character of Fräulein Doktor is pushed of the stage by scenes of trench warfare, scenes of soldiers with the flesh on their hands being eaten away by poison gas and a subplot tossed in about German soldiers posing as French soldiers to break into military HQ to copy battle plans. While these goings on are happening, Suzy Kendall's Fräulein Doktor is busy running around in a nurse's uniform as part of a Spanish contingent of nurses on their way to the Western Front to treat wounded allied soldiers. Somehow the Doktor speaks Spanish perfectly, with no German accent.
Netflix's streaming video version of this movie seems to have included the full lesbian scene between Suzy Kendall and Capucine, a scene censored on TV airings of the movie. Capucine plays Dr. Saforet, who is developing a new poison gas. In the scene, Capucine kisses Kendall on the lips, hot stuff back then. The scene does serve a real purpose, to show how Fräulein Doktor gets her hands on the poison gas.
Another scene, not censored, shows Kenneth More, playing a British intelligence officer, telling a caught spy to either talk or the spy will play the Wall Game. The wall being opposite a firing squad, with little chance of the spy winning the game. That sort of cynical attitude played well across national borders in the Vietnam War era.
Fräulein Doktor is a demonstration of how, 40 years ago, the once great film industry in Western Europe could turn out movies that had broad appeal all over the world. In the late 60s, while the big Hollywood studios were on the ropes, Italy, France and England were turning out movies to fill the void left by Hollywood's decline. There were the James Bond pictures (Doctor No was a surprise hit in the USA, it was first released at the Century theater chain in NYC with a 99 cent afternoon admission price), the Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns (with A Fistful of Dollars released by a distributor that never paid the Italian producers a dime) and French crime movies that usually went to art houses, with exceptions like The Sicilian Clan. And there were European co-productions like Doctor Zhivago and, of course, Fräulein Doktor. Fräulein Doktor was good enough that some viewers still remember the movie decades later, long after it was out of circulation.
Trouble is, my memories of Fräulein Doktor do not include the badly photographed battle scenes, the poorly done model work showing a warship in a storm, the terrible ending of this movie and the unnecessarily graphic scenes of soldiers' rotting flesh. Suzy Kendall, though, is just as beautiful as I remember her.