Saturday, June 25, 2011


An early WWII propaganda film disguised as a romance, or maybe vice versa. Ray Milland, after fighting as a soldier of fortune for the losing side in the Spanish Civil War, is waiting to be executed when an American woman (Claudette Colbert) claiming to be his wife shows up to plead for his release. We know that Milland has never seen this woman before, but the prison warden (George Zucco) is taken in and agrees to let him go. Moments later, Zucco discovers the deception and sends out an alarm, but the two manage to escape, just barely, in a plane. It turns out she's a reporter trying to land a name-making scoop, which she does. Some ridiculously coy romantic escapades occur in Paris, then they fall in love on a train to Berlin where she has a job as a war correspondent. They spend a few nice days in the French countryside until Hitler invades Poland. When Americans are warned to leave Europe, they book passage on the S.S. Athenia and feel guilty about leaving until their ship is sunk by the Nazis (an actual historic incident), at which point they decide to stay and do what they can in Europe. After France falls and Milland is injured in air combat, they go to America to spread the word and fight the isolationists.

This was one of the earliest films to actively support intervention in the European war, a rather controversial point at the time--it was released in the fall of 1940, over a year before Pearl Harbor. The mix of political argument and romantic comedy is awkward (as with the later ONCE UPON A HONEYMOON) and I wish it had been weighted more one way or the other. Milland was as handsome and charming as he ever was and he works well with Colbert. Zucco is a delightful surprise in a mostly comic role, though he's only in the first 15 minutes of the film. The film lacks strong supporting characters; Dennis O'Keefe and Dick Purcell do what they can with the small roles of pilot buddies of Milland's who crop up a couple of times as voices of conscience, and Walter Abel is amusing as Colbert's often flustered boss, but no one aside from the leads has much screen time. The title comes from a line in the Song of Solomon which is quoted a couple of times. Co-scripted by Billy Wilder. [TCM]

No comments: