The Mortal Storm (Frank Borzage / U.S., 1940):

Against the encroaching New Order, Frank Borzage's ewige Liebe. The Fatherland is a community at the foot of the Bavarian Alps, plush and cozy like a Christmas morning, the father is a revered professor (Frank Morgan) whose birthday dinner is interrupted by news of a rising chancellor. Make Germany "strong and powerful again," as they say, start by beating up the old man who prefers not to sing the Nazi anthem, and so it goes. (The lively beer hall is later glimpsed as underlit as a dungeon, cries of pain ring from behind the locked door.) Soulful maiden (Margaret Sullavan) positioned between militant fiancé (Robert Young) and pacifist veterinarian (James Stewart) provides the pivotal image, romance during the regime of systematic thuggery turns out to be the ultimate rebellion. "In the service of your country, there are no human relationships." Deutschland viewed from MGM, 1933 viewed from 1940, a destabilizing studio evocation: Familiar American faces like Dan Dailey and Ward Bond stomp and snarl adorned with swastikas, the mirage of escape is but a vertiginous rear-projection scrim. The end of all things thinly disguised as "a state of revolution" was prefigured by Little Man, What Now? and Three Comrades, Borzage sees the terror take center stage as plainly as he can. Bonfires of books, a whiff of Nacht und Nebel in the prison visit (practically a lost playlet from Fear and Misery of the Third Reich), a continuous darkening, a Cocteauesque sense of fatality ("Dear, we have so little time..."). Grand Illusion is a touching presence in the snowy border getaway, followed by the final view of the once-bountiful family household—now just a vacant shell for destructive fools trying to convince themselves of "duty," the saddest essence of fascism. Cinematography by William Daniels. With Robert Stack, Irene Rich, William T. Orr, Maria Ouspenskaya, Bonita Granville, and Esther Dale. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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