Cast & Crew
Dr. Braun, a Jewish physician forbidden to practice in Nazi-occupied Prague, has found a job in a warehouse. When a fellow tenant, a butcher named ¿idlák, asks the doctor to remove a bullet from the wound of a political fugitive, the apathetic physician at first refuses, and although he finally agrees to perform the operation he must find morphine to keep the fugitive quiet during the night. He inquires first at the home of a Jewish doctor friend, later at a bordello maintained for German troops, where his sister works as a chambermaid, and finally at a nightclub in which everyone is trying desperately to forget the war. He eventually obtains the drug from a physician at a Jewish sanitarium. To conceal the patient from police during a search of the building, the doctor carries him up to his attic. On the following day, one of Dr. Braun's fellow tenants reports the fugitive's presence to the authorities, and all the tenants are herded into the cellar. Confronted by his "crime," the Jewish doctor freely confesses and then commits suicide by swallowing poison. When forced by the police to file past Dr. Braun's body, the guilt-ridden tenants are unable to look upon the corpse; all, that is, except for one woman who pauses to close the dead man's eyes.
The Fifth Horseman Is Fear - The Fifth Horseman is Fear
The Fifth Horseman Is Fear is frequently categorized as a Holocaust film, but it is not directly about the Holocaust. Instead, it is about one man's moral response to a world that would allow a Holocaust. That one man is a Jewish physician named Braun who is forbidden to practice medicine by the Nazis. He works as a clerk in a warehouse that houses items confiscated from Jewish families, including everything from clocks to valuable paintings. Close-ups of tags, numbers, and lists suggest that these objects that were once the personal possessions of unique individuals have been reduced to numbered items categorized and inventoried by a cold-blooded state. Braun justifies his role as a Nazi employee-in effect, a collaborator-by claiming to be a realist: He knows the job has kept him alive. He further justifies his actions by trying to forget who he is. He rationalizes that his oppressors have stripped him of his identity anyway when they forbade him to practice medicine, so what does it matter if he is a Jew working for the Nazis.
His routine is disrupted when a neighbor in his apartment building asks him to treat a wounded resistance fighter. After Braun saves the man's life, he needs morphine to ease the pain and to keep him quiet so the fearful neighbors don't report any mysterious disturbances to the ever-watchful authorities. The search for the drug is a nightmare journey through Prague's underworld that reveals the depths to which this society has fallen under socio-political oppression. Braun first visits a brothel for German soldiers, where he discovers his sister working as a cleaning woman, then he looks for the drug in a nightclub called the Desperation Bar, and finally he winds up in an insane asylum, where a doctor gives him the morphine because he believes Braun is going to commit suicide with it. Rather than preventing a potential suicide, the asylum doctor tries to facilitate it, because it is better to escape their world than to live in it. The three-part descent into hell that Braun's midnight search represents actually posits three methods of escape for the denizens of this vicious world-sex, mind-numbing alcohol, and madness, with each method more desperate than the last. [In some prints of the film, the brothel scene has been edited out. This censored version robs the morphine sequence of its three-part structure and leaves out important information about Braun's family.]
Back at his apartment building, Braun grows even more wary of his suspicious neighbors who would inform on him at a moment's notice. Despite the dangers, he continues to help the wounded man, reasserting his identity and finding his moral center in the process-a self-revelation that carries a heavy price tag.
The low-key and high-contrast lighting that dominate the film support this dark story of menace, melancholy, and moral responsibility. It also marks the style as Expressionist, with some of the imagery and motifs specifically recalling German Expressionism. That 1920s artistic and cinematic movement was monumentally influential on film industries around the world, and it left its mark on Czech film through an early Holocaust drama called Distant Journey (1949). Stylistically, director Brynych picked up where Distant Journey left off, first for Horseman and then for his next film Sign of the Virgin (1965).
The staircase, which is the most memorable element of Braun's apartment building, looks sinister and threatening largely because it is depicted in an array of Expressionist angles and imagery. Staircases, particularly circular or winding styles, are a manifestation of the spiral motif, an Expressionist symbol of chaos and madness. In Horseman, shots of the building's staircase from above, which show the stairs spiraling down into an abyss of darkness, are used when the wounded resistance fighter first crawls into the building, forecasting a dire fate for the unfortunate man. Awkward high and low angles of the staircase make it look steep and threatening. The balusters cast eerie bar-shaped shadows against the wall, which telegraph to the viewer that the building's residents are not only trapped in an atmosphere of suspicion and paranoia but caught up in a moral quagmire of their own making.
The Desperation Bar is another setting that makes exquisite use of Expressionist techniques. The camera moves through the bar, stalking its inhabitants as Braun searches for a contact who can supply him with morphine. The bar is claustrophobic, dark, and filled with patrons so far removed from humanity that their faces look like masks. Again, the idea that the characters are trapped is echoed In the set design, particularly the iron bars reminiscent of jail bars. Aptly named, the Desperation Bar provides solace to the damned, though it can't hide those destined to be victimized by the state.
In style and tone, Expressionism was the opposite of social realism, the bland, superficial state-endorsed style preferred by the Soviet communists and imposed on the film industries of the Eastern Bloc. The communist bureaucrats disapproved of the dark, gloomy style and pessimistic tone of Expressionism. But, in the mid-1960s, Czech filmmakers like Brynych benefitted from a wave of political liberalization surging through the country, which sparked a lively and provocative intellectual and artistic scene. The change in the socio-political climate allowed this generation of directors, many of whom had just graduated from FAMU, the state-supported film school, to make films of daring and innovation. Called the Czech New Wave, this group included Milos Forman, Vojtech Jasny, Jaromil Jires, Jan Nemec, and Jiri Menzel. While many of these young directors absorbed the liberating influences of the French New Wave and the groundbreaking documentary techniques of cinema verite and neorealism, it is safest to say that each filmmaker pursued a personal style that was unique and distinctly their own.
Zbynek Brynych began his career as a production assistant at the state-supported Barrandov Studio in 1949 and directed his first film in 1958, which made him older than the core members of the Czech New Wave. And, he was more inspired by the old-school Expressionism of Alfred Radok's Distant Journey than the modernist techniques of the French. Still, Brynych shared much in common with Czech New Wave directors, including an interest in World War II subject matter. WWII was still within the memories of many of the directors, some of whom had personal experiences from the war. Plus, filmmakers could not directly criticize the communist state, despite the freer atmosphere. Moral dilemmas involving political oppression could be set during Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia and work as a veiled reference to life under communism-like The Fifth Horseman Is Fear. Brynych rode the wave of political liberalization to make his three most well-known films, Horseman, his earlier Holocaust drama Transport from Paradise (1962), and Sign of the Virgin (1965).
The brief era of liberalization peaked in early 1968 when Alexander Dubcek became head of state, ushering in a period called the Prague Spring. Unfortunately, in August of that year, the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia, determined to eliminate Dubcek's "communism with a human face." The Soviets re-established a hard line in the government, eventually pushing out Dubcek all together. Conditions in the film industry tightened considerably when the Soviets reorganized and centralized the studios. Czech New Wave directors found their projects stalled, shelved, or otherwise halted. Some, like Forman and Jasny, left the country, while others remained behind, struggling to work in the Soviet-controlled industry. Brynych stayed in Czechoslovakia and survived by directing for television, eventually relocating to Germany. After the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, he lived to see his homeland renamed the Czech Republic. He died in 1996.
The full glory of the Czech New Wave was not appreciated until after the Velvet Revolution-the bloodless decline and fall of communism in 1989-1990. While such directors as Milos Forman and Jiri Menzel were highly acclaimed in the West during the 1960s and 1970s, those who did not charm the western critics or garner Academy Award nominations went unsung or unnoticed until much later. Zbyneck Brynych is somewhere in between. The Fifth Horseman Is Fear did get shown in the United States in 1967, and it was given a theatrical release the following year. Critics, including a young Roger Ebert, raved about the film, but sadly it did not win over the American public. Brynych's unsentimental and uncompromising masterwork lacked the light moments and crowd-pleasing warmth of a film like Jiri Menzel's Closely Watched Trains-also a WWII story-which captured the hearts of American movie-goers as well as an Academy Award for best foreign film the same year Horseman was released.
Producer: Carlo Ponti
Director: Zbynek Brynych
Screenplay: Zbynek Brynych with Ester Krumbachova and Ota Koval, based on a novel by Hana Belohradska
Photography: Jan Kalis
Editor: Miroslav Hajek
Art Director: Milan Nejedly
Cast: Dr. Braun (Miroslav Machacek), Music Teacher (Olga Scheinpflugova), Mr. Vesely (Jiri Adamira), Sidlak (Ilja Prachar), Mr. Fanta (Josef Vinklar), Mrs. Vesely (Zdenka Prochazkova), Mrs. Wiener (Slavka Budinova), Singer (Alexandra Myskova), Police Inspector (Jiri Vrstala), Sidlak's Wife (Jana Pracharova).
by Susan Doll
The Fifth Horseman Is Fear - The Fifth Horseman is Fear
Location scenes filmed in Prague. Opened in Prague in February 1965 as ... A pátý jezdec je Strach; running time: 95 min. Additional brothel sequences which were made after the completion of the film did not appear in the Czechoslovak release version.