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A young French soldier in World War I is overcome with guilt when he kills a German soldier who, like himself, is a musically gifted conscript, each having attended the same musical conservatory in France. The fact that the incident occurred in war does not assuage his guilt. He travels to Germany to meet the man's family. Written by
Steve Owen <firstname.lastname@example.org>
One of over 700 Paramount Productions, filmed between 1929 and 1949, which were sold to MCA/Universal in 1958 for television distribution, and have been owned and controlled by Universal ever since. See more »
In the sense that this film's post-WW I pacifist yearnings are naive and unsupported by philosophic or practical consideration, this film is dated, there's no denying that. In that sense it's tied to its time in a way that many other films of the early thirties are not. But still, it's a wonderful film! A simple story: A Frenchman is overcome with guilt for killing a single German in battle in WW I. The church gives him no solace, so he decides to seek the forgiveness of the German soldier's family. The family jumps to the conclusion that he was a friend of their son, and he hasn't the courage to tell them the truth.
The performances are straightforward, and Lionel Barrymore is superb, as he nearly always was in his early years. When appropriate, Lubitsch uses all the showy techniques of his personal style. The opening scenes are a bravura series of brilliant visual bits, particularly the tracking shot down the church aisle at an armistice service, showing a belted sword extended from each pew. At other points, too, his special touch is evident, especially with the use of sound. When the German girl strolls with the Frenchman, the scandalous news travels from shop to shop to shop, and their walk is punctuated by the sound of the tingling bells on the shop doors. And the ticking of the clock, which the old man faithfully winds in his dead son's room, is adroitly used in the final scenes. One of the most telling uses of sound is when Barrymore hears the sound of marching feet. He looks toward an archway and the militaristic sound grows louder, but the sequence ends before the soldiers appear in the arch. It's a chilling moment that reminds the audience that Hitler is just off-screen, that perhaps the film's ideas are already out-of-date.
But Lubitsch also shows his greatness by the ABSENCE of obvious Lubitsch technique throughout much of the film. He's aware that his characters are the essence of the film, and for long stretches he lets his players act their story in plain, unbroken two-shots, without cinematic embellishment. It's a film by a master, and it's shameful that the failure of this film prevented Lubitsch from ever undertaking another drama.
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