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Tuesday, 26 May 2009

The Mortal Storm (1940)

1933. A snowy small university town in the German Alps. It is the morning of Professor Roth's (Frank Morgan) 60th birthday. His loving family circle comprises his devoted wife who has two very Prussian grown sons from a previous union and two children of their own, a teenaged son and a beloved daughter, Margaret Sullavan. The professor is admired by his colleagues and adored by his students. That evening at their birthday celebration, the family is joined by two childhood friends, ever-the-good-guy James Stewart and usually-a-good-guy, but not here, Robert Young; they both love Sullavan, but the more extrovert Young has staked his claim first. Then the news comes over the radio: Adolf Hitler has just been named Chancellor, to the enthusiasm of the young men (apart from Stewart of course) who view this as a chance for Germany's rebirth. They do not think that the fact that the professor is a "non-Aryan" -- the word Jewish is studiously avoided -- will change anything and that exceptions will be made. In a pig's eye!!

At once everything begins to change: the young men are mobilised by the Youth Corps led by a very dislikeable Dan Dailey, undesirables are harassed and beaten, and the professor is drummed out of the university for his unacceptable scientific teachings and taken to a concentration camp. Stewart retreats to his mountain-top farm where he lives with his mother, the always remarkable Maria Ouspenskaya, and Sullavan breaks it off with the indoctrinated Young. This is a difficult film to watch as the once strong and happy family circle disintegrates; it was sufficient to result in all MGM productions being banned forthwith in Nazi-controlled territories. Although the movie is very much of its time it still delivers a powerful message against totalitarianism under the direction of its ever-underated director Frank Borzage and through its very able cast.
AWAY AGAIN -- more next week.
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