Wednesday, August 20, 2003


An interesting melodrama with mixed messages about love, loyalty, and prejudice. Set during WWI, the story centers on Barbara Stanwyck, a New England blueblood; when we first see her, she is anxiously awaiting the arrival of her beau, Ralph Bellamy, from overseas. But when Bellamy arrives, he has a German pal, Otto Kruger, in tow and Stanwyck winds up smitten with Kruger, to the consternation of her family (including brother Frank Albertson and grandmother Laura Hope Crews). Bellamy steps aside and Stanwyck marries Kruger, who becomes a U. S. citizen and is slowly accepted by her family. However, the sinking of the Lusitania triggers a wave an anti-German sentiment; despite Kruger's best attempts to show how American he has become, the townspeople shut him out and he loses his teaching position at the local college. After their young son dies (of the flu, I think), Kruger goes back to Germany; Stanwyck divorces him and goes to Europe as a volunteer nurse. She meets up by accident with Kruger and realizes he is spying on American troops. Torn between her remaining feelings for Kruger and loyalty for her country (especially since her brother is at the front), she spends one last night with Kruger and then takes drastic measures to solve her problem (a solution that would not have been possible under the Hayes code a year later).

The movie's handling of the issue of wartime prejudices must have seemed particularly apt just a few years later as Hitler began his European invasions. Even now, after the events of September 11, 2001, the message is applicable (and given human nature, may never go out of date). Kruger is presented initally as a good man; it is the overwhelming nature of the town's prejuidce against him that drives him to his acts of betrayal. I had a problem with the "love at first sight" aspect of Stanwyck's first meeting with Kruger--he just isn't portrayed as all that charming or dashing (poor Ralph Bellamy never seems to have much luck with the leading ladies!). Ruth Donnelly is underused as the family maid; Clara Blandick and Elizabeth Patterson are also in the cast. A quote from the film might be seen as its message:--"Folks can't get away from what's bred in their blood and bones"--but the film ultimately takes a view that is more complicated and interesting than that.

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