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Friday, March 18, 2016

HITLER'S MADMAN (1943)

Remarkably, 1943 found three of Europe’s best directors, each in Hollywood exile, releasing films on the underground Nazi resistance. Jean Renoir with a sabotage story set in rural France, THIS LAND IS MINE, while both Fritz Lang (in the urban-set HANGMEN ALSO DIE) and Douglas Sirk (in rural setting) took on the real-life assassination of Reinhardt Heydrich, so-called Nazi Protector for the Czechs (frighteningly well played here by John Carradine). The films are all uneven, even awkward at times (Lang & Renoir never did become ‘Hollywood idiomatic’ like Sirk), but each displays a raw emotion and enough dramatic power to compensate for some artistic bumps. MADMAN’s tight indie budget (the film was an M-G-M pick-up) brings obvious shortcomings in production & casting (a wan Clark Gable substitute in leading man Alan Curtis; Karl Hajos’s over-insistent score), but it’s still a considerable achievement, building tension as it goes along, and studded with fine set pieces; particularly in the assassination sequence and in how the townspeople gather up courage in the face of Nazi atrocities. And not many pulled punches, even in the finale, a lift from Frank Borzage’s superb THE MORTAL STORM/’40 which might have been better camouflaged.

DOUBLE-BILL: Lang’s HANGMEN ALSO DIE, all but essential viewing after this.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Cheers to leading lady Patricia Morrison (best remembered as the original 'Kate' in Cole Porter's KISS ME KATE, on her recent 101st birthday!

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