Wednesday, September 04, 2002


In WWII, during the occupation of France, a group of French soldiers are talked into surrendering to the Germans with the promise of being sent home, but are tricked and sent to a concentration camp. The movie follows their attempts to stay sane and healthy, and to escape to join the Resistance. Gene Kelly is the cockiest one of the bunch who is eventually beaten down through torture. Jean-Pierre Aumont becomes the de facto leader of the men, remaining level-headed but optimistic, and eventually leading an escape. Cedric Hardwicke, Hume Cronyn and Wallace Ford are other prisoners. Peter Lorre is appropriately slimy as a Nazi bureaucrat. The post-escape section of the movie, in which some of the men manage to hide out in a small village and lead the entire village populace in an uprising, feels a little too Hollywood, but it certainly helps the film's propaganda quotient; the main point of the story seems to be to show American audiences that not all the French gave up or became collaborators--the title cross is a symbol of the Free French. For a 40's movie, there is a rather startling scene of violence where a Nazi gets a knife in the neck. Aumont's genuine French accent thows things off for a while, since none of the other actors is even really trying to sound French; until you get used to it, it feels like Aumont is the only French soldier among an international group. Overall, it isn't very realistic, but it is occasionally exciting and manages to rouse the right inspirational feelings.

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