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Wednesday, June 4, 2008


Speedy transfer of a smash WWII era B’way play is both fascinating and unintentionally ludicrous. In a picturesque American town, a ‘typical' American family take in a German refugee relative who turns out to be a Nazi Youth zealot. Why he's even got his old uniform hidden in his suitcase! Yep, it's OUR TOWN meets HITLER'S CHILDREN, and this OTT idea gets an OTT treatment, right down to Louis Applebaum’s bonkers background score. Character actor turned megger Leslie Fenton hasn't the style to camouflage a pinch-penny budget and he certainly doesn’t hold the actors down. (Skippy Homeier’s award-winning perf as the Nazi boy is close to berserk.) Yet, amidst the ineptitude there's a superb sequence right at the climax as two boys chase and fight across the town's backyards. (It's like something F. W. Murnau might have tried in his U.F.A. days. Did the second-unit shoot it?) Even Henry Sharp’s lensing comes to life for the segment, recalling his glory days shooting Doug Fairbanks classics & King Vidor's THE CROWD. (Bump down your brightness level to increase the ‘grey scale’ on this Image DVD edition.) With naturalism out of the question, pros like Fredric March, Betty Field & Agnes Moorehead all succumb to heightened stage manners. You adjust to it, to some extent, but nothing could have made the simplistic humanistic moralizing psychological ending work. In fact, the story might make a bit more sense if the kid remained the montrous automaton we first meet.

DOUBLE-BILL: Why not try putting on your own DVD double bill with this and Roger Corman ’s creepy fascist allegory tale, THE INTRUDER/’61. Then play follow the Leader. OR . . .if you'd like to see Skipper Homeier, this film's little Nazi, all grown up, but still plenty creepy, check out THE MOTIVE/'58 from the Third Season of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. The half-hour episode has lots of ties to Hitch's ROPE and STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, but with an even stronger gay sub-text. How it passed the tv censors is a mystery. Wait till you see how they staged the murder.

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