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Monday, July 22, 2013

Watch On The Rhine (1943)

As the clouds of war hover over Europe, a German refugee (Paul Lukas in his Oscar winning performance) and his American wife (Bette Davis) arrive in America with their three children seeking a haven with her upper class family in Washington D.C. The refugee is, in fact, a key member of the anti-Fascist underground and when a pro-Nazi house guest (George Coulouris) suspects his true identity, some far reaching decisions must be made. Propaganda films were a staple of WWII Hollywood but they were usually jingoistic war films involving the fighting in Europe or the Pacific. Based on the Lillian Hellman play (with a screenplay by Dashiell Hammett), this is homefront propaganda which means talk, talk, talk. One can't argue with the film's ethics, they're solid but instead of dialog we get characters making speeches which eventually makes for a tedious film however well intentioned. Davis seems ill suited for the role of the quietly admiring wife and she's there for box office value as the film's leading man Paul Lukas had none. It's a product of its time and a far cry from Hellman's best work like THE LITTLE FOXES and THE CHILDREN'S HOUR. Directed by Herman Shumlin who directed the original Broadway play. With Geraldine Fitzgerald, Lucile Watson, Beulah Bondi, Henry Daniell, Donald Woods and Anthony Caruso.

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