The Seventh Cross (Fred Zinnemann / U.S., 1944):

"Degraded Germany" has her conscience still, life in the police state is surveyed not with Lang's force (Hangmen Also Die!) but with Fred Zinnemann's sobriety, plus Karl Freund's lenses. The escape from the concentration camp is sketched with night and fog and a pitch of Hugo (dogs bark in the distance while a Luger slowly sinks in the thick bog), narration comes from the first prisoner caught (Ray Collins) as the camera dollies in on his crucified figure and cranes over the barbed-wire fence ("I was dead.... I could see"). On to Mainz with the hardened activist (Spencer Tracy), everyone is a potential snitch or a surreptitious helper: Theatrical seamstress (Agnes Moorehead), Jewish doctor (Steven Geray), resistance leader (Kurt Katch), conflicted ex-comrade (George Macready). The shaded lines of dread, complacency and courage cross at the home of the factory worker (Hume Cronyn) and his wife (Jessica Tandy), content with the new regime until the Gestapo comes calling. "Minding one's business is more than a virtue." This midway point between Ford's The Informer and Reed's Odd Man Out is set in 1936, "a bit of sport" on the rooftops with the runaway acrobat (George Suzanne) tacitly acknowledges the year of the Berlin Olympics. The stolid gaze of a face "emptier day by day" is rattled by expressionistic flashes (a rare POV shot gives a tilted church tower that goes blurry), Wajda benefits from the gallery of cameos that includes Felix Bressart and an anecdote about ants and sugar. The idyll of the lost girlfriend (Kaaren Verne) is briefly revived in an attic with the young barmaid (Signe Hasso), the Dutch border at the close is a liquid horizon. "One of these days is going to be marked with a cross," predicts Brecht, Zinnemann awaits on the other side with The Search. With Herbert Rudley, Alexander Granach, Katherine Locke, Konstantin Shayne, Paul Guilfoyle, and George Zucco. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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