SPANISH EARTH, THE (director: Joris Ivens; screenwriters: John Dos Passos/Ernest Hemingway; cinematographer: John Ferno; editor: Helen van Dongen; music: Mark Blitzstein; Runtime: 58; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Herman Shumlin; TMC cable TV; 1937-Spain-with an English narration)
“Serves as both a look at the humanity of the Loyalist followers and as an historical footnote to a significant time in the modern history of Spain.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A propaganda documentary filmed in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War (started in 1936) that favored the Loyalist fighters for the Republican army over the rebel fascist forces led by the right-wing General Franco and backed by Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. Left-wing director Joris Ivens (“How Yukong Moved the Mountains”/”The Threatening Sky”) spares us the usual talking head interviews and plunges straight ahead into the action around both Madrid and the small farming village of Fuentadueña, where farmers are tilling the soil while in Madrid’s outskirts a volunteer people’s army is fending off the attacks from General Franco’s professional soldiers. Ernest Hemingway presents the voice-over narrator, replacing Orson Welles. His voice was deemed too smooth for this rough-hewn agitprop documentary.
The film might be creaky but is fascinating in that it gives us a first-hand look at the fighting and the tense atmosphere surrounding Madrid as it’s being shelled by the enemy and many of its citizens are forced to evacuate. The loyalist use loudspeakers in battle to cheer their troops and to dissuade the enemy. The local farmers work hard to get their crops to market in Madrid, as the road from Madrid to Valencia is vital; the people’s army recognizes it as a key battleground and therefore put all their energies into keeping it open so the food supply can reach Madrid. The film concludes on the high point of the road being saved from the rebel army
The film acts as a morale booster for the troops and supporters of the Republican cause, and seeing it at this late date it can’t have the same impact as when first released but it, nevertheless, ably serves as both a look at the humanity of the Loyalist followers and as an historical footnote to a significant time in the modern history of Spain. The popular Loyalist leader Dolores Ibarruri is briefly seen giving a speech.
REVIEWED ON 7/31/2007 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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