One of the most sobering wartime films made in Hollywood about the atrocities in Europe, this is also one of Tuttle’s greatest. Written by Lester Cole, soon to be blacklisted, the film’s historical perspective and visionary nature matches that of Cole’s other great achievement from the following year, None Shall Escape (shown at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2018). William Bendix, in one of his finest screen roles, plays a restaurant waiter in 1943 Prague; considered an idiot, he is in fact a resistance leader. His workplace is frequented by Nazi officers and when a homesick officer kills himself, the Gestapo calls it a murder and vows retaliation. Random citizens are picked for execution, including the resistance leader and a collaborator. While the initial death is considered a murder, the film ends with a Nazi passing off the murder of another officer as suicide. Nazi occupation is seen as a continuously futile and suicidal act. This is not a propaganda film by any stretch, but rather a film about propaganda. William Randolph Hearst’s “Los Angeles Herald Express” disagreed and cried Red: “plain Communism masquerading under the guise of Czech patriotism”. Cole must have worn this as a badge of honour. The location footage was originally shot some six years earlier for Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife by Ernst Lubitsch who, in 1942, had made his own Nazi occupation film, To Be or Not to Be. Paul Lukas, fresh from Watch on the Rhine, plays Rheinhardt, a role originally meant for Erich von Stroheim (who instead appeared in Five Graves to Cairo). It was a time of urgent creativity in the production of war films focusing on the moral complexities of war. Tuttle shows fascism as unprincipled and unfaithful to humanity or truth, he keeps the tone pensive and eerily quiet, the air charged with oppression. Between silence (a female prisoner silently crying) and whispering (the way the Czechs talk) there’s the deafening sound of a machine gun. But even under fire, the Czechs in the film fall without a sound.
Cast and Credits
Sog.: from the eponimous novel (1942) by Stefan Heym. Scen.: Lester Cole, Frank Butler. F.: Victor Milner. M.: Archie Marshek. Scgf.: Franz Bachelin, Hans Dreier. Mus.: Victor Young. Int.: William Bendix (capo della resistenza), Luise Rainer (Milada Pressinger), Arturo de Córdova (Paul Breda), Paul Lukas (Richard Rheinhardt), Katina Paxinou (Maria), Oskar Homolka (Pressinger), Reinhold Schünzel (Kurt Daluege), Frederick Giermann (capitano Patzer). Prod.: Sol C. Siegel per Paramount Pictures 35 mm. D.: 88’.
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