Watch On The Rhine

1943, Movie, NR, 114 mins

Review

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Yawn. Lillian Hellman's respected play was adapted for film by Hellman and Dashiell Hammett, her longtime companion, and helmed by Herman Shumlin, who directed the stage original and cast some of its players here. The resulting drama, intermittently powerful stuff, was nominated for Best Picture, Script, and Supporting Actress (Lucile Watson) Oscars, while Paul Lukas, repeating his stage role, won as Best Actor. Kurt and Sara Muller (Lukas and Bette Davis), refugees from Nazi Germany, arrive with their children after a long absence to visit Sara's mother (Watson) in her Washington, DC, home. Already there are Teck de Brancovis (George Coulouris), a Rumanian count, and his American wife (Geraldine Fitzgerald). The Mullers plan to stay in the US only until Kurt's health improves; then he will return to his "business" abroad, the exact nature of which is unclear. When the count, who socializes at the German embassy, hears of the Gestapo's unsuccessful attempts to crack an underground resistance group, he suspects that Kurt may be one of them and offers to spy on him, then in turn tries to blackmail Kurt, who must take desperate measures to protect himself and his family.

One of the first American films to present the philosophy--rather than just the warmongering--of fascism as a danger, WATCH ON THE RHINE is rather dully helmed by stage director Shumlin, who too often fails to avoid the static pitfalls of so many play adaptations. Lukas and most of the cast (especially Coulouris) are in fine form, though, partially redeeming a film that has not worn particularly well. Davis, too, (in a fairly small role, though top-billed) tones down her usual fireworks here to fairly good effect. She's better in spitfire mode, though. leave a comment

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