Cast & Crew
In post-war Berlin, American military authorities go on alert when a young corporal, Johnny Leatherby, is kidnapped, presumably by the Russians. Johnny's influential and wealthy father, manufacturer Charles Leatherby, goes to Berlin in an arrogant attempt to "stir things up" and ensure that the military "red tape" does not prevent the safe return of his son. In charge of the case is Col. Steve Van Dyke, who has already assigned his best informant, Frau "Hoffy" Hoffmeyer, to dig up details. Steve's devoted secretary, "Rick" Cates, despises Hoffy and does not trust her because of her addiction to absinthe, but Steve reminds her that Hoffy has a long history of fighting the Nazis. While Frederick S. Hobart of the State Department picks up Leatherby at the airport and attempts to explain the complicated politics behind the situation, Steve meets with Hoffy. Hoffy tells him that the Russians wish to trade Johnny for two German citizens living in West Berlin, although they have not yet specified who they want. Steve, who once had a love affair with Hoffy, urges her to be careful, while at the press club bar, Leatherby drinks with Freddy and two reporters and rails against the U.S. military's inability to deal strictly with the Russians. Later that night, Steve receives an urgent call from Hoffy, requesting that he meet her in his apartment. Leatherby, still drinking with the reporters, is introduced to Sergei "Petey" Petrochine, a Russian-born American who works as a liaison between American and Russian officials. Petey informs Leatherby that he has already contacted Col. Lodijensky, Steve's counterpart in Russian intelligence, and that the Russians are denying any knowledge of Johnny's kidnapping. Angered, Leatherby asks Petey to help him pay off Johnny's abductors, but Petey calmly replies that his money is irrelevant in a predicament like this. When Steve and Leatherby meet for the following morning, Steve lambasts the businessman for attempting to bribe one of his operatives and yells at him that he cannot make personal deals with foreign governments. Although Steve warns Leatherby that he should have stayed home, Leatherby refuses to back down and insists that Steve should hand over the two Germans, even if they are innocent of any crime. That night, Steve and Leatherby dine at a local restaurant, and after Leatherby admires the middle-aged female pianist, Steve points out her blind husband and reveals that they are the people whom the Russians want in exchange for Johnny. Although Leatherby is baffled, he still maintains that his only concern is for his son. When Steve's righthand man, Sgt. Eddie McColloch, informs the couple, the Schindlers, that they are wanted for questioning, they deduce that the Russians must be involved and take strychnine pills. Steve rushes them to the U.S. Army hospital, where Dr. R. A. Foster attends to them. Steve orders Rick to find Hoffy, who seems to have vanished, then learns from Petey that Lodijensky, with whom they were friends, has died of a brain hemorrhage. When Leatherby sees how distressed Steve is by Lodijensky's death, he realizes that he was mistaken to assume that all Russians are the same, and is further worried upon hearing that Herr Schindler may die. Matters become even more complicated when Frau Schindler reveals that her name is actually Rachel Cameron, and that she is a British citizen. Realizing that he could be jailed for arresting a British citizen, Steve questions her, and Rachel states that her husband, whose real name is Gen. Gerd von Kratzenow, participated in the plot to assassinate Hitler and was blinded by Himmler's men as a result. She and Gerd escaped from prison during an American bombing raid, and she is certain that the remaining Nazis are now working with the Russians. Leatherby is deeply moved by Rachel's cry that Steve should have let them die, and when Steve must return to headquarters to meet British Intelligence officer Stanways, he orders Leatherby to remain at the hospital. At headquarters, Stanways informs Steve that Lodijensky killed himself and his family after someone informed the Russians that Steve was planning to help them escape to the U.S. Stanways also gives him a photograph of a double agent named Stamm, who must have been the informer, and adds that Rachel spied for the Allies during World War II. Steve is horrified that the photo of "Stamm" is actually Hoffy, and realizes that she would have had access to the confidential information about Lodijensky in his briefcase when he was at her apartment. Steve is then called upstairs to G-2, the intelligence department, which has picked up Hoffy for questioning. Steve instructs Hoffy to have the Russians bring Johnny to the American hospital in an ambulance in an hour and a half, then arranges for her release. Afterward, he learns from Maj. Burns that the real Frau Hoffmeyer was killed by "Stamm," who then assumed her identity. Back at the hosptial, Steve procures a bottle of absinthe and some strychnine, then arranges for the border patrol to allow the Russian ambulance to pass through unmolested. Steve is surprised when Leatherby admits that he cannot send Rachel and her husband to certain death, and asks him to let Johnny take his chances with his abductors. Steve gently tells Leatherby that he never had the power to influence his actions, then laces the absinthe with the poison. When Hoffy arrives, Steve offers her a drink to celebrate the impending exchange, and although Hoffy is too nervous to drink hers, Steve drinks his so that she will not become suspicious. Unable to knock Hoffy out with the drink, Steve resorts to knocking her unconscious with a blow to the jaw, then ties her to a gurney and covers her up. Meanwhile, the ambulance has arrived and Leatherby is relieved that Johnny is safe. Steve and his cohorts then wheel Hoffy into the ambulance and intimidate the Russian drivers into believing that she is the woman they came for, and that the man is dead. After the ambulance leaves, Rachel is reunited with her recovering husand, and Foster pumps Steve's stomach. The next day, Steve meets Leatherby and Johnny at the press club, where they thank him for all his efforts, and he assures Johnny that his father has a great heart. After they leave, Steve smiles while listening to a radio report that the missing G.I. was returned through regular diplomatic channels, indicating the Russians' willingness to resume peaceful relations with the West.
Peter Van Eyck
Charles G. Clarke
Best Writing, Screenplay
The working title of this film was The Cannibals. In July 1953, a New York Times article reported that the title was changed "lest audiences come expecting to see an African adventure starring gorillas, chimpanzees and pygmies." The article noted that instead the studio would use the title Night People, which belonged to a property it already owned. [According to an April 1953 Los Angeles Examiner news item, the earlier property was a science fiction story written by Philip Dunne and was to star Richard Widmark. That project was never produced, however.] According to a June 25, 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item, Gloria Grahame was originally cast in the film, which marked the directorial debut of producer-screenwriter Nunnally Johnson.
Several Hollywood Reporter news items reported that there was a great deal of friction between Johnson and Gregory Peck, and on September 9, 1953, an item in Hollywood Reporter's "Rambling Reporter" column speculated that Johnson, who was suffering from bursitis, would be replaced by Henry Koster. Studio production chief Darry F. Zanuck visited the set to settle the "discord," according to a September 10, 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item, and production on the picture proceeded on schedule. Some modern sources suggest that the "discord" was merely a publicity ploy, however, and add that Peck, who had the contractual right to approve or veto the studio's choice of director, had approved Johnson as Night People's director.
According to studio publicity and contemporary news items, the film's exterior sequences were shot on location in Berlin, and interiors were shot at the Geiselgasteig Studios in Munich. The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Writing (Motion Picture Story).
Released in United States 1954
Released in United States 1954