Mortal Storm, The (1940)

Synopsis:
Respected professor Viktor Roth (Frank Morgan) lives happily in Germany, until Hitler comes to power and his family is torn apart by ideological differences.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this classic anti-Nazi film (made before America entered the war) features sensitive direction by Frank Borzage and insightful performances by its stars (Jimmy Stewart, Margaret Sullavan, and Frank Morgan). Borzage wisely spends ample time showing us Professor Roth’s idyllic existence before Nazism pervades the minds of his impressionable young students; the contrast is all the more striking for it. While it’s true, as Peary notes, that you never quite forget this is a Hollywood movie, I’m not sure why he singles out Jimmy Stewart’s performance as especially hard-to-swallow, given that none of the Hollywood actors make any attempt at German accents. Note that the word “Jew” is never used in the film; instead, Professor Roth is repeatedly referred to as “non-Aryan”.

Redeeming Qualities:

  • Excellent performances by the entire cast
  • A poignant look at a family torn apart by war

Must See?
Yes. As one of the first anti-Nazi Hollywood films made before America entered the war, it’s worth seeing for historical purposes alone.

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(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

One Response to “Mortal Storm, The (1940)”

  1. Yes, a must. Although Borzage made over 100 films (roughly half silents), he’s something of an unsung Hollywood director. Though much of what he made in the sound era is hard to come by (unless you carefully comb the TCM schedule, perhaps), I would venture a guess that much of it is worth checking out. One interesting aspect of “The Mortal Storm’ is that, as the film progresses, it somehow seems to become increasingly darker–even in day scenes–as the rise of Nazism snaps friendships and family like twigs, creating a marked schism between loyalists and “undesirable connections”. As well, once the film shifts to non-stop, palpable tension, the acting improves considerably–not that it’s at all bad up to that point, but it’s then that the leads, with their stock personalities, are (like the characters they are playing) called on to collectively show their mettle. Another intriguing Borzage film, “Strange Cargo’ was released this same year (1940). BTW: of course, many films cover this subject; two other recommended if lesser known ones are “Watch on the Rhine’ (1943) and (unmentioned by Peary) “The Hiding Place’ (1975).

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