Pichel; screenwriters: Nunnally Johnson/ based on
the novel by Nevil Shute; cinematographer: Edward Cronjager;
McNeil; music: Alfred Newman; cast: Monty Wooley (Howard), Roddy MacDowell (Ronnie), Anne Baxter (Nicole Rougeron), Otto Preminger, (Major Diessen), J. Carrol Naish (Aristide Rougeron),
Marcel Dalio (Focquet), Peggy Ann Garner (Sheila), Lester Matthews (Mr. Cavanaugh), Jill Esmond (Mrs. Cavanaugh), Merrill Rodin (Willem), Maurice Tauzin (Pierre), Fleurette Zama (Rose),
Ferike Boros (Madame); Runtime:
86; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Nunnally Johnson; Twentieth Century-Fox;
"Sentimental wartime story that never fully recovers from its contrivances."
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Irving Pichel ("Martin
Luther"/"She"/"The Most Dangerous Game"), muting the
realities of war, directs this sentimental wartime story that
never fully recovers from its contrivances. It's based
on the novel by Nevil Shute and is written by Nunnally Johnson.
The elderly, stubborn,
gruff, misanthrope, Mr. Howard (Monty Wooley), a patriotic
Englishman, whose offer to help the war effort was
turned down by every government agency, is vacationing
in eastern France during the summer of
1940 when Hitler invades France and is set to invade
Great Britain. League of Nation Brit diplomat Mr. Cavanaugh (Lester Matthews) and his wife (Jill Esmond) plead with Howard, staying
at the same holiday lodge, to take their young
children with him when he returns to London by train,
as dad goes to his next assignment in Geneva and
doesn't want the kiddies in that potential hotspot but
prefers they stay with an aunt at Plymouth. Despite
hating children Howard takes the adolescent Ronnie (Roddy MacDowell) and his younger sister
Ann Garner) by
train, but the train is halted in Joigny and Howard is forced
to take a bus to Chartres. There the little French girl Rose,
whose father is a waiter in London, joins Howard
despite his reluctance to also have her in his charge.
When German planes attack and kill almost everyone on
the bus stuck on the road, Howard and his party taking
a swim by the river while the bus was being repaired
are safe and are now joined by a shell-shocked French
Jewish boy Pierre whose parents were killed in the bus
attack. Soon a Dutch boy named Willem somehow joins
their party, as Howard goes to the Chartres home of the Rougerons for
aid. They are French natives whom Howard met while on
vacation the previous summer. Howard is helped by Nicole Rougeron (Anne Baxter), their pretty
daughter, to get a train to the Brittany seaside,
where she selflessly arranges with the brave fisherman
transport Howard and the urchins across the Channel.
But before they depart, Major Diessen (Otto
Preminger), a Gestapo officer, detains them and
accuses Howard of being a British spy in his
interrogation. Howard now assumes a sympathetic pose,
as he refuses to back down from the Nazi major and
ready to sacrifice his life for the children's safety.
It's a film that probably
played better when released, as the dramatics lose
much of the urgency when not viewed during the
uncertain and tense early war days.
Though not a particularly
strong film other than its emotional charge for the
war effort, it was nominated for Best Picture that year.
REVIEWED ON 1/4/2012 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ