When sixteen-year-old Karin Steinhof (Christine Kaufmann) is brutally raped by four drunken American soldiers — Sergeant Chuck Snyder (Frank Sutton), Private Joey Haines (Mal Sondock), Corporal Jim Larkin (Robert Blake), and Corporal Birdwell Scott (Richard Jaeckel) — the residents of her hometown of Neustadt, Germany are horrified. The Army is outraged, Karin’s father Karl (Hans Nielsen) wants the death penalty and so does the prosecutor. Steve Garrett (Kirk Douglas) is brought in to serve as defense for the rapists.
Garrett knows perfectly well that his clients are guilty and tries to enter a plea bargain to get their sentence reduced to hard labor. However, he’s not just thinking of his clients. Garrett has a great deal of sympathy for Karin and knows that if the case goes to trial, he will be forced to relentlessly cross-examine her and he doesn’t want to have to do that. But the prosecutor rejects the plea deal and the case goes to trial. As the trial progresses, Garrett tries to convince Karin’s father to stop her from testifying, but he refuses. The only way the rapists would get the death penalty is if she testified and that is what he still wants.
The time comes for Garrett to cross-examine Karin and as predicted, the process is too much for Karin. She collapses on the stand and is unable to go on with the trial. The rapists are dishonorably discharged from the Army and sentenced to hard labor, but the consequences of the trial are far harder on Karin. It’s put a lot of strain on her family and her reputation in town has been destroyed. Garrett tells Karin’s boyfriend Frank (Gerhart Lippert) the best thing he could do is take her and leave town. Frank tries, but to get the money he needs, he forges a check and the police stop them before they get very far. Just before he is to leave town, Garrett hears that Karin has committed suicide. Garrett is devastated and quietly leaves town, seemingly one of the few people in town genuinely affected by the news.
I was very impressed by Town Without Pity. This is a movie that pulls no punches. Gritty, brutally honest, and sadly, it’s a story that still rings true over fifty years later. Kirk Douglas and Christine Kaufmann deliver some excellent performances. The score is great as is Gene Pitney’s title song, although the title song is used so many times during the movie that you’re sure to have that song stuck in your head for days afterward. Overall, an excellent film that really deserves more credit than it gets.