Tonight's Saturday Night cinema is The North Star, starring Anne Baxter, Dana Andrews, Walter Huston, and Walter Brennan. Released in 1943, it appears that this film was designed to boost support for America's alliance with Russia against Germany ........
Click below for filmBy BOSLEY CROWTHERPublished: November 5, 1943
The story of Russia's recent ordeal has been variously reported to the world through mediums which have eminently reflected one of history's most terrible wars. And now comes a motion picture which images that conflict in a way intended to state its human meanings without any political pondering at all. It is Samuel Goldwyn's new production, "The North Star," which was presented here last night at two Broadway theatres, the New Victoria and the Palace—an honor accorded to only a few previous films.
Based on a script originally written by Lillian Hellman and directed by Lewis Milestone, this lyric and savage picture suggests in passionate terms the outrage committed upon a peaceful people by the invading armies of Nazi Germany And it offers a clamorous tribute to the courage and tenacity of those who have sacrificed their homes, themselves and their families in resisting the Fascist hordes in this war.
Through the evidence of one happy village—apparently Russian, though that fact is strangely slurred—it indicates what the Germans ran into when they crossed a border on a fateful June day. It shows how the people of this village girded themselves for a no-quarter fight—how the men went off to the hills to become guerrillas and how the women, children and old folks remained at home to scorch the earth ahead of the invaders and to endure brutalities of the most inhuman sort, particularly the taking of blood from children for transfusion into German soldiers. And it ends with a rip-roaring melee when the guerrillas come down out of the hills, after a brave group of children and one old man have run some guns through to them, to retake the village, slaughter its Nazi garrison and liberate the populace.
It is a heroic picture, the force of which is weakened only by the fact that in it Mr. Goldwyn and Mr. Milestone have too freely mixed theatrical forms. The first part of the film, in which the village and its inhabitants are idyllically introduced, is distinctly in the style of operetta. There are music (by Aaron Copland) and rollicking gaiety of the sort familiar to lighthearted peasants in musical comedies set in mythical foreign lands. When the people of the village gather for a sociable evening al fresco, it might even be a scene from "Oklahoma " And when the children go off on a walking trip, they sing of themselves delightedly as "the younger generation and the future of the nation" in lyrics by Ira Gershwin.
The contrast is therefore too prodigious when the bombs suddenly come raining down and the style of the film abruptly changes to one of vehement reality. The switch is too obvious a reminder of the theatrical nature of the film. But from that point on the tension and excitement are so extreme that reflection is not convenient. And the film is climaxed by an eloquent scene in which is stated finely the idea that all men who aid the Fascists are enemies of humanity.
This scene, in which Walter Huston as the village doctor kills Erich von Stroheim in the role of a Nazi surgeon who pretends to regret what he does, is by far the most trenchant in the picture, and a ringing truth lies in the village doctor's words, "I have heard about men like you—the civilized men who are sorry. * * * You are the real fifth—men who do the work of Fascists and pretend to themselves they are better than those for whom they work, men who do murder while they laugh at those for whom they do it." This speech, written by Miss Hellman, lifts the film to a thrilling peak.
The performance of Mr. Huston is excellent, combining gentleness, dignity and rugged strength, and Mr. von Stroheim is caustic and arrogant in a role that fits him like a monocle. Walter Brennan brings humor and homely gravity to the part of an old farmer, while Anne Baxter, Dana Andrews, Jane Withers and Farley Granger are conventionally spirited as young folks.
"The North Star" has so much in it that is moving and triumphant that its sometime departures from reality may be generally overlooked.
THE NORTH STAR — Original story and screen play by Lillian Hellman; directed by Lewis Milestone; produced by Samuel Goldwyn and released through RKO Radio Pictures. At the Victoria and Palace Theatres.
Marina . . . . . Anne Baxter
Kotya . . . . . Dana Andrews
Dr. Kurin . . . . . Walter Huston
Karp . . . . . Walter Brennan
Sophia . . . . . Ann Harding
Claudia . . . . . Jane Withers
Damian . . . . . Farley Granger
Dr. Von Harden . . . . . Erich Von Stroheim
Rodion . . . . . Dean Jagger
Grisha . . . . . Eric Robert
Boris . . . . . Carl Benton Reid
Olga . . . . . Ann Carter
Anna . . . . . Esther Dale
Nadva . . . . . Ruth Nelson
Iakin . . . . . Paul Guilfoyle
Dr. Richter . . . . . Martin Kosleck
German Captain . . . . . Tonio Selwart
Russian Pilot . . . . . Robert Lowery