EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?
|UNDERGROUND (director: Vincent Sherman; screenwriters: Edwin Justus Mayer & Oliver H.P. Garrett/Charles Grayson; cinematographer: Sid Hickox; editor: Thomas Pratt; music: Adolph Deutsch; cast: Jeffrey Lynn (Kurt Franken), Philip Dorn (Eric Franken), Kaaren Verne (Sylvia Helmuth), Mona Maris (Fräulein Gessner), Martin Kosleck (Col. Heller), Peter Whitney (Alex Schumann, Underground Member), Erwin Kalser (Dr. Albert Franken), Ilka Gruning (Frau Franken), Frank Reicher (Prof. Hugo Baumer), Hans Schumm (Heller's Aide), Wolfgang Zilzer (Walter Hoffman), Lisa Golm (Ella, housekeeper); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Bryan Foy; Warner Brothers; 1941)|
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Vincent Sherman ("Mr. Skeffington"/"Saturday's Children"/"The Garment Jungle") directs this solid war drama, that was timely upon its release. The earnest propaganda film is well-paced, well-executed and well-photographed, as it tells its engrossing Cain and Abel story at the onset of WW II and exposes how inhuman are the Nazis. Charles Grayson adapts the screenplay from a story by Edwin Justus Mayer & Oliver H.P. Garrett.
The impressionable Sgt. Kurt Franken (Jeffrey Lynn), advocating the Nazi cause, returns to his loving parents' Berlin home after losing his left arm in battle and argues with his scientist father (Erwin Kalser) who opposes the war. His chemist older brother Eric (Philip Dorn, Dutch actor) secretly works for the German underground to broadcast the Voice of Freedom in a hidden tow truck, as he and his group of freedom fighters are at great risk to bring the German citizens anti-Nazi information they can't get in the media. They also manage to distribute anti-Nazi leaflets.
Eric must work hard to conceal his activities from his nosy and opinionated brother, who believes wholeheartedly in the Nazi cause. After the Nazis locate the short-wave radio of the underground and cause it to be destroyed, they further aim to put an end to the underground by capturing its leaders. They thereby release one of the underground members, Walter Hoffman (Wolfgang Zilzer), who was captured two years ago and tortured while an inmate in a concentration camp and force him to entrap the underground leaders when they meet in Maxel's cafe. But Gestapo headquarters's aide Fräulein Gessner (Mona Maris), actually a member of the resistance, warns them in time, and only one of the underground is shot.
Meanwhile, the horny Kurt, looking to meet a girl while on leave waiting for further orders, steals the address of one of his brother's girls, Sylvia (Kaaren Verne), the attractive violinist in Maxels, who is also in the underground. When Kurt accompanies her to pick up a package with the new radio equipment, the Gestapo is there to arrest her even though she refused to pick up the package. Grilled and tortured by the ruthless Gestapo commander, Col. Heller (Martin Kosleck), she still doesn't crack. But Heller's convinced of her guilt and has Kurt spy on her while dating her. The loyal soldier Kurt becomes conflicted when he learns that his brother is the underground leader.
The film does a good job tapping into the emotions of the time that causes divisions in families and in the country, and exposes the evil nature of the Nazi movement. A crisply told story, even if only a routine one. I imagine it had a greater impact upon its release, but this all but forgotten film still holds up as an example of decent wartime filmmaking.
REVIEWED ON 4/20/2009 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
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