“This is war, and you’re in it!”
In Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia, a doctor (Brian Donlevy) working for the underground secretly assassinates the corrupt deputy governor (Hans Heinrich von Twardowski), then seeks refuge in the home of a young woman (Anna Lee) who helped him flee the police. When Lee’s father (Walter Brennan) is sent to prison awaiting execution, and a double agent (Gene Lockhart) works to turn in informers, Lee — whose fiance (Dennis O’Keefe) is understandably distressed by her life-saving pretense of being Donlevy’s lover — must decide whether to protect her own family or the greater cause of her nation.
- Anna Lee Films
- Brian Donlevy Films
- Fritz Lang Films
- Walter Brennan Films
- World War II
Very loosely based upon the real-life assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, this Fritz Lang propaganda film — co-scripted by Bertolt Brecht, and clocking in at 134 minutes — is (as noted in TCM’s article) “one of Lang’s quartet of war-inspired productions including Man Hunt (1941), Ministry of Fear (1944) and Cloak and Dagger (1946).” TCM informs us that “though these films have never been considered Lang’s best work, their release amidst wartime fervor made them successful contributions to the Hollywood propaganda effort.” As with Fred Zinneman’s The Seventh Cross (1944), we’re most intrigued by the complexity of this story — that is, how many people are (indeed, must be) involved in efforts to resist fascism. Lee’s character arc is perhaps most notable: she shifts from justifiably furious with Donlevy for placing her family’s previously untouched lives in danger, to gradual recognition of the collective situation:
but we also see Brennan (fine in an unusually subdued supporting role) bonding with fellow captives as he faces near-certain death:
… and other minor characters refusing (even under torture) to betray their countrymen.
The narrative through line of a double agent (Lockhart) who finds himself gradually hemmed in by his own deceit is enormously satisfying:
… and if the Nazis here are portrayed in a somewhat caricatured fashion, this can easily be forgiven given the era in which this film was made and released.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Walter Brennan as Professor Novotny
- A powerful tale of the need for collective resistance in the face of fascism
- James Wong Howe’s cinematography
Yes, as a powerful WWII-era drama. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.