(director: Irving Pichel; screenwriters: Nunnally Johnson/ based on the novel by Nevil Shute; cinematographer: Edward Cronjager; editor: Allen McNeil; music: Alfred Newman; cast: Monty Wooley (Howard), Roddy MacDowell (Ronnie), Anne Baxter (Nicole Rougeron), Otto Preminger, (Major Diessen), J. Carrol Naish (Aristide Rougeron), Marcel Dalio (Focquet), Peggy Ann Garner (Sheila), Lester Matthews (Mr. Cavanaugh), Jill Esmond (Mrs. Cavanaugh), Merrill Rodin (Willem), Maurice Tauzin (Pierre), Fleurette Zama (Rose), Ferike Boros (Madame); Runtime: 86; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Nunnally Johnson; Twentieth Century-Fox; 1942)
“sentimental wartime story that never fully recovers from its contrivances.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Irving Pichel (“Martin Luther”/”She”/”The Most Dangerous Game”), muting the realities of war,directs this sentimental wartime story that never fully recovers from its contrivances. It’s based on the novel by Nevil Shuteand is written byNunnally Johnson.
The elderly, stubborn, crotchety, gruff, misanthrope, Mr. Howard (Monty Wooley), a patriotic Englishman, whose offer to help the war effort was turned down by every government agency, is vacationing in eastern France during the summer of 1940 when Hitler invades France and is set to invade Great Britain. League of Nation Brit diplomat Mr. Cavanaugh (Lester Matthews) and his wife (Jill Esmond) plead with Howard, staying at the same holiday lodge, to take their young children with him when he returns to London by train, as dad goes to his next assignment in Geneva and doesn’t want the kiddies in that potential hotspot but prefers they stay with an aunt at Plymouth. Despite hating children Howard takes the adolescent Ronnie (Roddy MacDowell) and his younger sister Sheila (Peggy Ann Garner) by train, but the train is halted in Joigny and Howard is forced to take a bus to Chartres. There the little French girl Rose, whose father is a waiter in London, joins Howard despite his reluctance to also have her in his charge. When German planes attack and kill almost everyone on the bus stuck on the road, Howard and his party taking a swim by the river while the bus was being repaired are safe and are now joined by a shell-shocked French Jewish boy Pierre whose parents were killed in the bus attack. Soon a Dutch boy named Willem somehow joins their party, as Howard goes to the Chartres home of the Rougerons for aid. They are French natives whom Howard met while on vacation the previous summer. Howard is helped by Nicole Rougeron (Anne Baxter), their pretty daughter, to get a train to the Brittany seaside, where she selflessly arranges with the brave fisherman Focquet (Marcel Dalio) to transport Howard and the urchins across the Channel. But before they depart, Major Diessen (Otto Preminger), a Gestapo officer, detains them and accuses Howard of being a British spy in his interrogation. Howard now assumes a sympathetic pose, as he refuses to back down from the Nazi major and shows he’s ready to sacrifice his life for the children’s safety.
It’s a film that probably played better when released, as the dramatics lose much of the urgency when not viewed during the uncertain and tense early war days.
Though not a particularly strong film other than its emotional charge for the war effort, it was nominated for Best Picture that year.
REVIEWED ON 1/4/2012 GRADE: B- https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/