People on a Sunday (1930) – Film Review

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by Sarah Morgan

We tend to think of Germany in the decade prior to the Second World War as a dark, depressing place. However, People on a Sunday provides a fascinating snapshot of what ordinary life was like for millions of its twentysomething citizens.

The story actually begins on a Saturday, as five people make plans for their day off. They’re then followed as they make their way to a bathing area for a period of lounging around, falling in and out of love, and generally enjoying themselves.

people on a sunday film review coverUnlike many German films of the period, it isn’t a dark and moody piece – expressionism is swapped for bright sunlight. This is a celebration of the young made by film-makers largely just starting their careers.

“Naturalistic approach”

It was a huge success on its release; its semi-documentary style seems to have attracted cinema goers to it, who were apparently thrilled by the naturalistic approach, helped by the fact that the leads were non-professional actors.

Film fans who have not heard of the movie itself may be attracted by the names of those who worked on it. Arguably the most notable is the great Billy (then Billie) Wilder, who wrote the screenplay, based on an idea by Curt Siodmak; he later earned a living writing B movies and classic horrors.

Siodmak’s more esteemed brother Robert also ended up in Hollywood, and is best known today for making film noirs, including The Killers. He was skilled at getting the best from his actors, and it’s perhaps that trait he brought to People on a Sunday, which he co-directed with future B movie-maker Edward G Ullmer.

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“Wealth of special features “

If that isn’t impressive enough, Fred Zinnemann, later to win an Oscar for directing From Here to Eternity, was the camera assistant, while Eugen Schufftan, who would also win an Oscar, for the cinematography on The Hustler, was the director of photography.

The film itself has been pieced together from various cuts held in vaults across Europe, so this is perhaps the closest version we’ll ever get to see – and it looks almost as fresh as it did 90 years ago.

There’s a wealth of special features to enjoy too, including vintage documentaries covering similar themes, such as what workers do in their downtime. My favourite was a British Transport Film about Leicester shoe factory-workers having a day out in London. Honestly, it’s far more charming and entertaining than it sounds!

Watch out too for an impressive booklet about the main feature, with contributions from various film historians.

‘People on a Sunday’ is released on Blu-ray by BFI, £14.99


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