By the end of "Berlin Tunnel 21," I had no nails left, having bitten all of them off during this very tense and exciting 1981 TV movie. The stars include Richard Thomas, Horst Buchholz, Kenneth Griffith and Jose Ferrer. Thomas plays an American soldier in 1961 who has increasing trouble getting to see his girlfriend in East Berlin now that the wall is up - he approaches engineer Buchholz about building a tunnel under one of the abandoned buildings in East Berlin. Joining them are a well-known artist (Griffith) and two young men trying to get loved ones out of East Berlin.
The situation is fraught with tension with Buchholz trusting no one and Thomas trusting everyone; traitors emerge, the tunnel starts to fill with water, and they are discovered by the owner of the building (Ferrer). Then the families start to chicken out about leaving East Berlin. "I lost all my courage in the war," one man says. The fear and oppression under which these people lived is accurately depicted as they are afraid to hope any longer.
Filmed in West Berlin, the atmosphere is perfect - dark streets, dilapidated buildings, overcast weather - it all really adds to the tension.
The performances are uniformly excellent. The always wonderful Richard Thomas plays a determined young man who will not let anything stop him from achieving his goal; where he is relaxed, Buchholz is pessimistic, angry and tough. The two work well off of each other. Ferrer is in his usual type of role - cold and dictatorial, but this time, his character has some sensitivity as well. The most emotional work comes from Kenneth Griffith who gives a very touching performance. The European actors - Ute Christensen, Jacques Breuer, Robert Freitag, etc. - are all excellent.
Very well written by John Gay and directed by Richard Michaels, "Berlin Tunnel 21" is a well above average TV movie that deserves at some point to be released on DVD.
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