Monday, January 26, 2015


The Norwegian resistance movement during WWII is well-documented, and stories of the bravery of the Norwegian people were used as the basis of several propaganda movies of the era—as were stories of collaborationists who came to be called "quislings" after the Norwegian politician Vidkun Quisling who worked with the Nazis after they occupied the country in 1940. Though THE MOON IS DOWN has the most distinguished pedigree—based on a play by John Steinbeck—this is probably the most exciting and entertaining of the mini-genre. The small fishing village of Trollness has put up with the occupation, under Nazi captain Helmut Dantine, for a couple of years, but most of the villagers have remained cold to the occupiers and are looking to the unofficial leader of the resistance movement (Errol Flynn) and his girlfriend (Ann Sheridan) for guidance, though all are getting restless. They soon get word that the British are smuggling in arms and they are asked to wait to rise up until a coordinated effort all along the coast is ready. During what appears to be a routine church service, the villagers, all the while looking forward at the pastor (who is a pacifist), debate three points: rebel now, wait, or do nothing. They decide to wait and accept the weapons, though Sheridan's father (Walter Huston), a respected doctor, is uncomfortable with any active resistance. Meanwhile, Sheridan's brother (John Beal) arrives from out of town and takes the collaborationists' side, becoming friendly with Dantine and a Polish woman (Nancy Coleman) who is being "kept”" by the Nazis. When a respected retired teacher refuses to give up his home to the Nazis, he is beaten in public and has all his books torn up. This flashpoint passes as the wait for the rest of the coast continues, but after Sheridan is raped by a Nazi and a German soldier is killed, Dantine rounds up the town leaders (including Flynn, Sheridan and Huston) and holds a public execution, forcing each Norwegian to dig his own grave first. Surprisingly, it's the pastor who fires the first shot against the occupiers and triggers the armed revolt.

Though the story is a Hollywood fantasy of resistance—there was apparently no armed uprising of any kind in Norway—it is compelling, well-acted and directed with some visual flair by Lewis Milestone (ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT). There is interesting use of camera movement and miniatures, and the church meeting sequence works up quite a bit of tension with odd shots from behind and from the sides of the actors. Flynn and Sheridan make a good leading couple, and though Flynn is the star, it's to his credit that his character ends up more or less blending in with the rest of the townspeople. Huston shines by underplaying, and in a cast full of small but meaty roles, the standouts are Judith Anderson as another village leader, Morris Carnovsky as the teacher, Charles Dingle as the quisling owner of the town fishery, Henry Brandon as a British spy who wears a Nazi uniform, and Richard Fraser as the pastor. (The picture at left shows Huston, Sheridan, Flynn and Anderson at the execution site.) The movie has a grim opening, one of the darkest of any Hollywood movie of the era, set after the climactic revolt: two German pilots flying over the town see a Norwegian flag flying instead of the German flag, land to investigate, and find the village heaping full of corpses, both natives and Nazis. Yes, it's a glossy studio production and rarely shakes off its soundstage feel, and with a running time of two hours, could have used some judicious editing, but overall it's one of the best of the WWII propaganda films. [DVD]

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