Friday, February 17, 2012


During World War II, we are told in voiceover, refugees were trying escaping the "medieval darkness" of Europe. Some made it to America, some didn't. Many refugees were dumped on the Caribbean island of Guadalupe, and one is the brooding, mute stranger known as El Hombre. When he gets drunk, he plays piano, quite beautifully. Unfortunately, he's also gone a little crazy and one night, after reading a notice about "murder boats," operations that promise to take desperate refugees away but actually take their money and kill them, he goes out and sets fire to the boat of his friends Angelo and Luigi, legitimate sailors who brought him to the island in the first place. Angelo tries to be understanding, but Luigi is out for blood. Meanwhile, across the street from El Hombre's shabby apartment lies a young woman, Marya, dying of pneumonia, and her caretakers Dr. Hoffman and Anna. When they hear the piano music of El Hombre, it reminds them of Marya's husband, a concert pianist named Jan Volny who has disappeared. Of course, a long flashback shows us that El Hombre is Jan Volny. At a concert in Prague after the Nazi invasion, Volny plays Smetana's "The Moldau," a much-loved nationalistic piece, in direct defiance of Nazi orders. He makes plans to leave the country that night and to meet his wife in Paris later, but the Gestapo snags him and in the middle of an interrogation, the Nazi von Neubach smashes a lamp against Volny's head, leaving him with a serious brain injury. Still, while being transported to a concentration camp, Volny manages to escape and is taken in by Luigi and Marco and taken to Guadalupe, with no memory of who he is. Back in the present, the question is, will Jan and Marya, right across the street from each other, ever see each other again?

[Spoiler!] I fully expected a teary deathbed reunion, but no such luck: Marya recognizes his playing and heads out to find him, but she collapses in the street and dies before he finds her. The gloomy ending is perfectly in tune with the mood of the movie, which is grim from the get-go. The direction, slow and stately by Arthur Ripley, and the shadowy cinematography give the movie its intense feel, which is a plus, but the pace of the narrative is slow and the two main characters aren't fleshed out very well, despite good performances from Francis Lederer (pictured) and Sigrid Gurie (who at times resembles Vivian Leigh). Actually, it's the sailor brothers who steal their scenes—Alexander Granach as the nice one (Angelo) and the great character actor J. Carroll Naish as the mean one (Luigi)—and the two of them play an important part at the climax. Another fine character actor who goes by the initial "J," J. Edward Bromberg, plays the doctor. Someone named Howard Johnson is credited as Capt. von Neubach, who I assume is the Gestapo interrogator and he's quite good in his small role. As a mood piece, this film works well, but it's not for action fans or romantics who want easy redemption. [TCM]


Adam said...

Flipping through the last year of your blog, we clearly DVR a lot of the same stuff. You also made me realize I forgot to record I'll Get By.

Do you mind if I nab your screencap for this? I watched it earlier this morning.

Michael said...

Nab away. Most of ones I've taken from the TV screen. The VOICE poster came from the Internet