North Star, The (1943)

“We’re the younger generation, and the future of our nation!”

Synopsis:
Ukrainian villagers — including high school graduate Marina (Anne Baxter), her college-bound fiance Damian (Farley Granger), her best friend Clavdia (Jane Withers), Clavdia’s brother (Eric Roberts), and Damian’s older brother (Dana Andrews) — must deal with the sudden invasion of Nazi soldiers in their nation, including heinous crimes against children led by Dr. von Harden (Erich von Stroheim).

Genres:

Review:
This Oscar-nominated Hollywood production — featuring Lewis Milestone as director, Lillian Hellman as screenwriter, Aaron Copland as composer, James Wong Howe as ciematographer, William Cameron Menzies as producer, and a bevy of major stars — remains a most curious wartime entry, made during the 1941-1945 U.S.-Soviet alliance when some were keen to tell the Soviets’ tale of patriotic resistance against the Nazis. Interestingly, the directorial style — especially during the surreal first third, which is designed like a sound-stage operetta — bears much in common with early Soviet cinema, yet with the added cognitive dissonance of seeing well-known American stars populating the screen. There is unfortunately very little to commend during these opening scenes, which are set up simply as a starkly idyllic, drawn-out counterpoint to the hell that’s about to descend, complete with corny musical interludes. There’s a hinted-at romantic triangle established between Baxter, Granger, and Andrews — which later turns into an opportunity for Granger to show his worthiness as more than “simply” a university student — and for Withers (oh-so-poorly miscast) to be dumped upon as a fat (?) and pathetically lovestruck young woman who is also eventually given a chance to show her mettle. Once fighter planes ruthlessly bomb civilians on a road — a Nazi pilot grins with evil glee — the film becomes almost shockingly brutal, including sequences taking place under the supervision of von Stroheim’s calmly evil doctor. Will the villagers prevail? Wait for Anne Baxter’s final speech to find out.

Note: The history behind this film’s production, release, reception, and subsequent Red-sanitized re-release under a different name (Armored Attack) is well worth reading about.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • James Wong Howe’s cinematography
  • Skilled camera direction
  • Shockingly realistic scenes of wartime brutality

Must See?
No, though I suppose it’s worth a look as a historical curiosity.

Links:

One Response to “North Star, The (1943)”

  1. First viewing. Not must-see – and its value in cinema history appears somewhat negligible.

    Most of the salient points about this “curious” (indeed!) film are well-brought-out in the assessment. Though its good intentions can’t be thoroughly dismissed, I suppose, this film shows its director and cast mostly working valiantly around Hellman’s under-achieving script.

    More sentimental than cogent, the text has an earnestness which is too often undone by dialogue that sounds either woefully inauthentic or needlessly pompous. The story doesn’t require the occasional urge to lecture.

    As well, turning the whole thing into a quasi-musical doesn’t help much either.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.