October 16, 2008

BOMBER & PAGANINI (1976) - uniquely black comedy

(1976, West Germany)

Why do films become obscure?
Britain's BBC2 used to run interesting European films in late night slots in the 1970's and 1980's, some of which I'd like to see again. This one in particular caught my eye because of its bleak, black humour and huge dollops of irony. While I'm trying to limit Black Hole reviews to recommendations of must-see films, this is more of a simple acknowledgment of a good film that's become obscure (outside it's own country). Maybe this will help someone out there troubled by their own vague memories of thirty years ago.

It also makes me wonder where these films go, why do they become obscure, or even completely disappear? Black & white films and silent movies are rarer on TV than they used to be. These now have to be actively hunted down rather than discovered by channel-hopping. I've learnt that films can suddenly become hard to see. 'Obscure film heaven' is a dusty shelf somewhere...

Anyhow, wanting to see this particular vague memory again wasn't so easy - I couldn't remember it's name or even the country where it was made. For years, I've been searching for a Polish film about a guy in a wheelchair and a blind guy playing football - only recently I found out it was German, out on DVD, and had nothing to do with football! I saw it on a black-and-white TV, so I was surprised that it was actuall shot in colour. The DVD has no English translation, but I couldn't wait any longer.

The set-up is simple: Bomber and Paganini are two inept crooks who attempt a jewel heist by cracking a safe. But stupidity and acetylene torches don't mix - Bomber winds up blinded, and Paganini loses the use of his legs. After a lengthy stay in the prison hospital, they reluctantly team up again, out of necessity. Paganini can see for both of them and needs Bomber to push his wheelchair. But while inside, they've been usurped from their sleazy nightclub headquarters, their only remaining allies are a few prostitutes they used to pimp, and Bomber's mother. This all may sound a bit Farrelly Brothers, but while the characters are slightly stylised, it still feels grubbily real.

The hapless duo initially struggle to make any sort of money, resorting to ridiculous penny-pinching schemes. The film meanders through several random escapades before eventually focussing again on a grand scheme for them to regain all that they've lost, and revenge themselves.

While it's full of wry observational humour, it doesn't get tempted by any slapstick humour for easy laughs. There's some great moments of physical comedy, but their disabilities are believably portrayed, particularly Paganini struggling along without the use of both legs and one arm, shrunken dejectedly into his wheelchair, partly lost inside a huge coat. He somewhat resembles a weaselly version of Robert Carlyle. Bomber reminded me more of an oafish Jean Reno (perhaps it was his Leon glasses).

The two actors also appear to perform most of their own stunts, which involve a variety of high-speed wheelchair crashes. Both actors are still working today - you may even have seen Bomber (Mario Adorf) as 'Consalvi' in Dario Argento's, The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970), and glimpsed Paganini (Tilo Pr├╝ckner) as 'Night Hob' in The Neverending Story (1984), also shot in Germany. They're supported by an wide cast of character actors as the other slightly surreal low lifes.

Much of the film appears grittily real because of the large amount of outdoor and location filming, though it's all impeccably photographed and subtly well lit. The DVD certainly doesn't make the film look its age.

Bizarrely this German DVD (available here) includes a rambling trailer that's dubbed into English, though there are no subtitles or dub on the main feature. While this indicates it must have had an English release (somewhere), the only non-Germans with love for this seem to be those who also saw it TV in the UK.

There are a few more black and white photos from the film on the Crazy Media site - click on the small thumbnail at top right, labelled 'Screenshots'.


  1. I remember this film from the 1970,s.I believe it was shown on BBC 2 on the World Cinema series on a Wednesday night. Once seen never forgotten even though it was subtitled in English it still came over as hilarious and would love to see it again.

  2. i have been wanting to see this film again since i saw it when i was about 13. does anyone know where i can buy a copy with english subs or preferably dialogue. many thanks matt p.

  3. I've been harbouring longings to see this film again, ever since I saw it on TV in the seventies.
    Today I found there's a copy on Ebay, but the subtitling, unfortunately, is Greek only, which is severely disappointing.
    If anyone does stumble over an English subtitled version I would love to hear about it.
    FWIW, I prefer subtitling to dubbing.

  4. Prompted by a copy appearing on Ebay (Greek subtitles only,unfortunately, othterwise it would already be mine), I found my way here via a search.
    I've been wanting to see this film again ever since seeing it on TV - the BBC obviously had an English subtitled copy, so it's a bit odd that it shouldn't have re-appeared.
    FWIW, I prefer subtitles over dubbing, every time.

  5. I remember seeing this film and it stuck in my memory, absoloutly superb black comedy with just the right amount of irony and "slapstick" to make it one of the funniest films i have ever seen. Come on BBC screen it again for us.

  6. Always had a soft spot for this movie. Unforgettable with some beautiful little details in the background, or was it because I was stoned at the time. Well it was in the 70's. Been looking for it for ages off and on.

  7. My wife and I watched this film on our wedding night,pre thrashing around under the bed sheets of the then Ariel hotel bedroom, payed for with a British Airways discount.That was 35 years ago from today's date....08/10/12. PS we didn't thrash around......said that for cheap laugh!!! Try contacting BBC now you have an exact date reference.

  8. Came across this blog for this film . Wanted to let you know that In Belgium / The Netherlands the VHS release on the Arpa video label is the English dubbed version

  9. Thank you, Dan. I'm glad it's still out there.

  10. When I saw this hugely enjoyable film, I was surprised by the most restrictive censorship grading I have ever come across "Restricted film festival audiences only - not to be screened before 10:30p.m".
    Afterwards I realised that although the festival was being held in one of the most democratic nations in the world, the censors were worried by the film's anarchistic undertones.