THIS LAND IS MINE (director: Jean Renoir; screenwriter: Dudley Nichols; cinematographer: Frank Redman; editor: Frederic Knudtson; music: Lothar Perl; cast: Charles Laughton (Albert Lory), Maureen O’Hara (Louise Martin), George Sanders (George Lambert), Walter Slezak (Maj. Erich von Keller), Kent Smith (Paul Martin), Una O’Connor (Mrs. Emma Lory), Philip Merivale (Professor Sorel), Thurston Hall (Mayor Henry Manville); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Dudley Nichols/Jean Renoir; RKO; 1943)
“Fails to be as inspirational when viewed today as it probably was during its day.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
It was the second American film made when French director Jean Renoir (“Rules of the Game”/”Grand Illusion”) was exiled to Hollywood because of the war. It suffers from being a jingo filled wartime propaganda drama that is too preachy and fails to be as inspirational when viewed today as it probably was during its day. Dudley Nichols script calls for speeches waxing poetic on the virtues of fighting for the truth rather than giving in to tyranny.
It’s set “somewhere in Europe” (most likely Jean Renoir’s French occupied homeland). Charles Laughton plays Albert Lory, a timid and cowardly school teacher; his overbearing mom Emma (Una O’Connor) keeps him under her apron strings. He’s secretly in love with attractive fellow teacher Louise Martin (Maureen O’Hara). Albert fights his fears and struggles to get enough courage to do what’s right to protect freedom, something he wholeheartedly believes in, after talking with headmaster Sorel (Philip Merivale). George Lambert (George Sanders) is engaged to Louise, but ultimately turns out to be a collaborator who betrayed her Resistance fighter brother Paul (Kent Smith). The courageous Paul sabotaged a train and threw a bomb at German soldiers led by Major Von Keller (Walter Slezak). In reprisal, Von Keller arrests the brave headmaster Sorel and nine other hostages, threatening to shoot them if the bomber is not turned over to them. When Mrs. Lory’s son gets taken to Nazi headquarters, carrying in his pocket a pamphlet about Liberty, the panic-stricken mom tells turncoat George who is the bomber. Paul is killed by the Germans while trying to escape, and Louise blames Albert for ratting out her brother when he’s the only hostage released alive. George realizes his foul deeds and commits suicide, and Albert is arrested for his murder. In court, Albert gives a speech advocating sabotage and resistance to the fascist occupiers, and further denounces the collaborators for acting out of self-interest. The jury finds him not guilty. But later Albert is arrested by soldiers in the school when he continues to deliver to his students lectures on the virtues of liberty as he reads from the Declaration of the Rights of Man.
It was hard to believe that the Nazis would allow Laughton to mouth off so freely in one of their courts, giving me doubts as to the film’s credibility; also the film was so talky that its good-intentioned ethical message was almost drowned out by its artificial artifice, though what remains top-notch are the classy Renoir set-ups.
REVIEWED ON 8/22/2007 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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