Seventh Cross, The (1944)

“There are no better men than Paul Roeder.”

Synopsis:
A fugitive (Spencer Tracy) from a concentration camp in 1936 Germany seeks refuge with old friends and acquaintances but finds he can’t rely on everyone. A married friend (Hume Cronyn) and his wife (Jessica Tandy) prove to be pivotal in his survival, as does a beautiful hotel maid (Signe Hasso) he falls in love with.

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Review:
Fred Zinnemann directed this somber, affecting tale about the crucial role of human decency in the midst of war and deception. Playing a concentration camp survivor on the run for his life in Nazi-occupied Germany, Tracy possesses an appropriately haunted look throughout the film — but it’s married actors Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy who give the most memorable performances, playing a loving couple with young children who are happy about their country’s economic progress but suitably distressed as they learn about the horrors their friend (Tracy) has undergone and continues to face. The film opens with a powerful sequence explaining the film’s title — as they’re caught, the fugitives are nailed one by one to crosses outside the camp — and never lets up in tension, as Tracy slips from one location to the next, chronically uncertain who he can trust (or not). Least convincing is Tracy’s brief romance with a housemaid (Hasso) who takes pity on him; this unnecessary subplot could (and should) have been left out of the story, which doesn’t need such a distraction. Regardless, enough of the film works that it’s certainly recommended for at least one-time viewing. Watch for Agnes Moorehead in a small but crucial role as one of many individuals Tracy must stake his life upon as he flees for safety.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Hume Cronyn as Paul
  • Jessica Tandy as Liesel
  • Konstantin Shayne’s brief but affecting appearance as Fuellgrabe (“This is an evil world, Heisler — a stinking, horrible, god-forsaken world.”)
  • Karl Freund’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as a powerful war-time film.

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One Response to “Seventh Cross, The (1944)”

  1. First viewing. Agreed – a must-see; for its historical importance and as an “all-around good show” As per my post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “She put that money into your pocket. Why did she do it? What made her do it?”

    ‘The Seventh Cross’ [1944; link to film in comments section]: TCM shows a high percentage of MGM films – in recent years (at any rate), they haven’t shown this one. ‘TSC’ is the superb breakthrough film by director Fred Zinnemann, who previously had a couple of B-films to his credit. Based on a novel by German refugee writer Anna Seghers, it tells a story of the high cost of kindness in Nazi Germany in 1936. (It was one of the few films made during the war that dealt with Nazi concentration camps.) In an extremely understated performance, Spencer Tracy plays one of seven men who escape from a camp. (It’s not stated but we’re to believe Tracy’s character is a political dissident.) To make an example of the seven escapees, the camp leaders construct seven crosses, on which the men will be hung once they have been captured. All but Tracy are caught – and the film’s focus turns to Tracy’s frustrating efforts to find someone (hopefully among those in the Resistance) who he can trust to help him make it to Holland. This is one very tense film – populated by characters whose sense of goodness is always in question and whose instinct for self-preservation is always a given. With the aid of impressive production design, the work of DP Karl Freund is stunning. The strong supporting cast includes Agnes Moorehead (in a small but solid role), the luminous Signe Hasso and (in their first film together) real-life couple Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn (who, shockingly, received the film’s only Oscar nom – though that takes nothing away from his performance as someone who is hardly anti-Nazi but comes to see the worth of the Underground). The film was a hit for MGM.

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