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William 'Stage' Boyd
Escaping a Nazi prison train in war-torn Italy, an American and a British soldier set out for the Swiss border and find themselves leading a multi-national party of refugees for the Italian underground.
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Comparing this early talkie to other static product of the year, it is amazing to note Wyler's influence on sound film language. The cinematography is actually that- there is much tracking, much dollying in - the camera is totally fluid, not tied to one microphone location. The special effects in the climax storm are also quite masterly for its time. Wonderful Wyler effects abound: Seth and Matt stopping in their tracks as they leave their mother's grave when the sounds of the clods being shoveled onto the casket hit their ears; the sleeping drunk at the bar with a brawl going on all around him and sudden animation when free drinks are announced; the peg-legged man who discovers a broken table leg in the brawl aftermath that is better than his own wooden leg and tucks it under his arm.
The story is a classic one - derived from the PHAEDRA legend and used by Wharton (ETHAN FROME), O'Neill (DESIRE UNDER THE ELMS) and Howard (THEY KNEW WHAT THEY WANTED). Father marries young wife, who falls in love with her adoptive son, causing triangle rage.
Douglass Montgomery in his first film and under his first moniker- Kent Douglass - does well as the idealistic and weak son, captive under his father's strong will. Helen Chandler equally does well as the timid mail order bride, who fears Seth and falls in love with Matt.
Walter Huston is a brute - a mean, menacing, self-referential brute. He values people only in their usefulness to him. Wives are workhorses, not people. Sons are extensions of fathers, not people. He is a monster and thoroughly unlikeable - not a single redeeming feature in the writing or performance.
Interesting that the dialogue is by Walter's son and future director, John.
This is a solid little melodrama, well played, directed and acted and worth a look, if just to marvel at Wyler's mastery of the sound film form so early in its development.
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