“There’s nothing in my life if I don’t find my child.”
An American army engineer (Montgomery Clift) in post-war Germany encounters a young Czech refugee named Karel (Ivan Jandl), who has made a panicked escape from a UN transit camp and hopes to find his mother. Meanwhile, the transit camp director (Aline McMahon) meets and works with Jandl’s despondent mother (Jarmila Novotná), not knowing she’s Karel’s mom. Will Karel and his mother eventually reunite?
This Swiss-American production — directed by Fred Zinneman both on-location in Germany and in a studio in Switzerland — earned Jandl a well-deserved special juvenile Academy Award for his performance as a panicked, traumatized, yet ultimately resilient young boy living in chaotic times. In his film debut, Clift is believable and sympathetic playing a young man who tries to do the best thing for “Jim” (Karel), but encounters numerous hurdles and logistical challenges; since he doesn’t show up until one-third of the film has passed, he emerges naturally as a player in Karel’s story, rather than the other way around. If the ending is a bit strained and “Hollywoodized”, this is easily forgivable given the otherwise sobering reality we’ve seen playing out until then. It’s a gift this film was made, given its ability to show us a uniquely distressing moment in European history, when the U.S. made truly valiant efforts to help a world in chaos.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Montgomery Clift as Ralph Stevenson
- Ivan Jandl as Karel Malik
- A realistic historical depiction of post-war orphans and refugees
Yes, as a well-told film about a specific slice of history.