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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

WATCH ON THE RHINE (1943)


Excepting THE LITTLE FOXES, Lillian Hellman’s plays are largely dismissed today, and WATCH ON THE RHINE is hardly free of her clunky devices: hidden packets of cash; a jimmied briefcase lock; a crumbling marriage to help move the plot; speechifying tots to cover any stray talking points; and that Hellman specialty, the metaphorical blindness of the blindingly rich. The WWII story follows an anti-fascist agent who brings his wife & kids to her family manse in D.C., then must rejoin the fight in Europe on his own. Ah, but not before he takes care of an informer who would, for a price, stop him. Matters are hardly improved by the all-thumbs megging from debuting B'way director Herman Shumlin. (His stiff follow-up, CONFIDENTIAL AGENT/'45 ended his brief Hollywood sojourn). So, why am I always so moved? It's true that Bette Davis. playing demur & looking uncommonly lovely, brings a deep emotional charge to what is essentially a generous supporting role and that Paul Lucas recreates his stage triumph without looking stale or over-rehearsed. (His showstopper, singing a defiant resistance song is riveting stuff.) Hell, even the creepy robotic kids grow on you. Hellman was no artist, but a working playwright (note the spelling) who built dramatic boxes that only held tight when the actors were both bigger-than-life & true-to-life. No wonder it worked so well with Golden Age Hollywood stars.

CONTEST: Name the Hollywood Production Code violation that is strikingly, almost defiantly, flaunted in this film to win our usual prize, a MAKSQUIBS Write-Up of any NetFlix pic of your choice.

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