Monday, August 01, 2016


In June of 1940, the curmudgeonly British John Howard (Monty Woolley) is traveling in France, fishing at a lodge, just as the Germans are invading France—with England seemingly their next stop. As Howard makes plans to leave, a woman at the lodge asks him to escort her two children, Ronny (Roddy McDowell) and Shelia (Peggy Ann Garner), back to relatives in England while she makes her way to Switzerland. Reluctantly, he agrees and the three board a train, but when it's stopped and taken over by the French Army, they wind up on a crowded bus—accompanied by another child, asked along by Shelia. At Chartres, they come under German airplane fire and pick up another child, a boy who has been traumatized into silence by the death of his parents. Howard gets news that his son, an RAF pilot, is dead just after he meets up with the young Nicole Rougeron (Anne Baxter) who had an affair with his son. She helps arrange passage for Howard and his charges across the English Channel, but a Nazi major (Otto Preminger) who thinks Howard might be a spy could bring all their plans to an end.

I spent years trying to see this film, based on a novel by Nevil Shute, because I'm a fan of Monty Woolley and he was nominated for Best Actor for his role here. It was shown occasionally on Cinemax back in the 90s but by the time I had access to that channel, they had quit airing it. Now all these years later, I was able to see in on a gray-market DVD. I'm not sure I'd say it was worth a twenty-year wait, but it is a solid wartime drama with a very good lead performance from Woolley. The child actors McDowell and Garner acquit themselves well and the tone is much less saccharine than it could have been. The horrors of the war are downplayed for a lighter tone in general which fits the feel of the original novel by Nevil Shute. Also with J. Carroll Naish and Marcel Dalio. I'm not sure why this has not gotten a legal commercial release on DVD, but it should.

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