Monday, March 28, 2011

The Mortal Storm (1940)

Ah, the World War 2 propaganda know, there should be a study of propaganda films. It is really fascinating how one can try to persuade the viewer to take their side in a issue. In World War 2, of course there were a bunch of films that showed how evil the Nazis were, in addition to showing that good old USA was on the side of good. This was not unusual: what is unusual is an American anti-Nazi film made before 1941, when the country entered the war. That got it banned in Germany, despite the studio trying its best to make location as vague as necessary (and failing at it).

This is where The Mortal Storm fits into the scheme of things. It takes place in a German town, not too far from the Austrian border. It is about a family with a Jewish---sorry, "non-Ayran" patriarch (Frank Morgan), and how they are is divided by Nazism. While the parents, daughter (Margaret Sullivan), and family friend (James Stewart) are very much outspoken against Hitler, their twin sons (one of which is strangely young Robert Stack) and daughter's fiancĂ© (Robert Young) reveal a strong fidelity to Hitler which literally comes out of nowhere.

And that is the film's greatest flaw: The complete complete 180 that those characters go through. There is no hint before their conversion that they followed Nazisim. They go from "Hi, Jewish step-father/professor, we are so happy to celebrate your birthday!" to "Germany must regain its glory and take over the world!" at the drop of a hat, and that did not ring true for me.

But besides that, this was a very well-made film. The acting is really good all around, with a special shout out to Margret Sullivan and James Stewart. Both of them regain their chemistry from The Shop Around the Corner (1940), and it helps to involve the audience further in their plight and in clinging onto their steadfast beliefs amide the turmoil surrounding them.

Another special shout out has to go towards the cinematography.  There is some really fluid camera work, and some of the shots are beautifully put together. Also, the skiing scenes in the mountains very nicely filmed, though slightly ruined when intercut with shots of the actors leaning forward in front of mattes (seriously, it is possible for someone to ski downhill wearing a fedora, without it being blown off)?

Why is this film not better known? Perhaps because it has been over-shadowed be more prestigious, award-winning films of the same caliber made later (Casablanca, Mr. Miniver, etc). Who knows? What I do know is that this one of the better American WW2 propaganda film that I have seen, and that it deserves more attention.

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