Saturday, April 24, 2010


One moonlit night during the Nazi invasion of Poland, Anton Walbrook, a fighter pilot and famous concert pianist, on a break after nine straight hours in the air, wanders though the ruins, enters an empty house, and begins playing the piano. An American reporter (Sally Gray) finds him and they fall in love as the bombs fall outside. With defeat around the corner, Walbrook and his buddy (Derrick de Marney) are sent to Romania while the rest of his squadron go on one last hopeless mission. Months later, in New York on a tour, Walbrook meets up with Gray and they begin an affair which leads to marriage, but when de Marney decides to head off to England to join the RAF, Gray, knowing Walbrook will want to go, tries to engineer things so he won't. Of course, it doesn't work and she threatens to divorce him if he leaves. He leaves. She stews. During an air battle, Walbrook's gun gets stuck and he crashes in a German plane. He survives but winds up in an asylum with severe amnesia. Can the presence of a piano and his wife help bring him back to normal?

Though made before the American entrance into the war, this is not so much a typical WWII propaganda film as a wartime romance with the added angles of classical music and amnesia. Walbrook is good but has very little chemistry with Gray (who despite supposedly being an American has a British accent); when they kiss, it's like they're both afraid the other will have garlic breath. The story is told in flashback, opening with Walbrook plunking tunelessly at the piano, Gray sitting patiently with him in his room, and doctors and nurses tutting about the tragedy of the great pianist; when one nurse says he's lucky to be alive, another responds, "What's the good of being alive if you don't know who you are?" That's an interesting philosophical conundrum but it's not really explored here. Instead, after a nicely atmospheric opening to the flashback (the moonlit night, the piano, the bombs), the film becomes a routine melodrama that trudges through its predictable steps. De Marney steals scenes from the low-key Walbrook, and if you keep your eyes open, you'll recognize Michael Rennie in a tiny role. Richard Addinsell's "Warsaw Concerto," written for this film, became a popular concert piece, and Chopin's "Polonaise" is used throughout. [TCM]

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