Saturday, February 17, 2007


A gray-area WWII movie, made while America was still technically neutral. An opening title card tells us this is the story of "people without passports," specifically refugees from Germany and Nazi occupation in the late 30's. The narrative begins in Vienna in 1937; several refugees are sharing a flophouse hotel room, among them Fredric March, a German Aryan who despises Nazi ideology and is an escapee from a concentration camp, but is trying to get back to Germany to see his sick wife, and Glenn Ford, a young half-Jewish man new to the game of staying one step ahead of the police. March and Ford get some jail time and become friends before being released at the Czech border. Ford, in Prague, falls in love with Margaret Sullavan, a Jewish chemistry student who has to resort to subterfuge to continue her studies. Thinking she is hurting Ford's chances at a free life, she leaves him to go to Zurich, but he follows her. March, back in Vienna as a carnival mind reader, becomes a hunted man when the Nazis invade Austria, and the trio wind up together in France. Sullavan's professor suggests that she marry a Frenchman to get legitimate ID papers, but she's fallen in love with Ford. There are more journeys, entrapments, and escapes before March, held by Nazi officer Erich von Stroheim, agrees to betray resistance leaders if he is allowed to visit his dying wife (Frances Dee). Of course, he's Fredric March so instead of betrayal, he performs a heroic act of self-sacrifice which allows Ford and Sullavan to have a better shot at a happy life together. All three leads are fine, with Ford taking acting honors here (Sullavan seems a bit at sea, perhaps because of her underwritten character). Leonid Kinskey and Anna Sten are standouts in the supporting cast. The movie is directed by John Cromwell, but owes its effective, moody atmosphere to production designer William Cameron Menzies. Though not the first Hollywood movie to depict the plight of Nazi victims in Europe, it was apparently the first one to show that Jews were being singled out. This interesting film is only available on DVD from VCI in a print which leaves much to be desired, especially in its soundtrack which has a tinny, electronic echo from time to time. [DVD]

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