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ESCAPE (director: Mervyn Leroy; screenwriters: Arch Oboler/Marguerite Roberts/from the novel by Ethel Vance; cinematographer: Robert Planck; editor: George Boemler; music: Franz Waxman; cast: Norma Shearer (Countess von Treck), Robert Taylor (Mark Preysing), Conrad Veidt (Gen. Kurt von Kolb), Alla Nazimova (Emmy Ritter), Felix Bressart (Fritz Keller), Albert Bassermann (Dr. Arthur Henning), Philip Dorn (Dr. Ditten, camp doctor); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Lawrence Weingarten; MGM; 1940)
“Glossy and sentimental Holocaust story.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director Mervyn Leroy (“Waterloo Bridge”/”Tugboat Annie”/”I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang”) bases the slow-moving glossy and sentimental Holocaust story on the 1939 best seller by Ethel Vance. The well-crafted but unaffecting weepie was written by Arch Oboler and Marguerite Roberts, and is rescued from a slow death due to tedium by an exciting Hollywood finish.

American painter Mark Preysing (Robert Taylor) comes to pre-war Nazi Germany to rescue his famous German stage actress mom, Emmy Ritter (Alla Nazimova, silent screen star’s first role in fifteen years), living for years in America, who returns to her native country to dispose of her late husband’s estate and is arrested for treason for trying to take money out of the country. Mark does not know what happened to mom and is given the cold shoulder by even former friends, until he meets fellow American, the Countess von Treck (Norma Shearer), and gets the reluctant Countess to change her tune and inform him that his mother is in a concentration camp scheduled for the gas chamber.

The Countess is the mistress of the evil General von Kolb (Conrad Veidt, his American film debut).

The Countess and Mark team-up to arrange for a daring escape, as they place mom in a coffin and hide her in the countess’s home until they eventually take her across the border to safety.

The importance of the film, torn from the headlines of that period, is that it was one of the early Hollywood films to tell about the death camps. Hitler banned Escape in Germany for its anti-Nazi stance.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”