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William A. Wellman
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In 1909 Mary Archer, daughter of small-town bluebloods, awaits the return from Germany of sometime beau Jeff. But Jeff brings with him a German friend, Hugo Wilbrandt, who loves and marries Mary. Hugo joins the faculty of a small college and the Wilbrandts prosper...until the advent of World War I brings a storm of anti-German hatred. Resulting troubles so embitter Hugo that he regrets his American citizenship... Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
The First World War saw the debut not only of new military technology, but also new weapons of psychological warfare. It was the first war fought with means of mass persuasion as well as mass production. To get the American public in the proper fighting spirit for their inevitable entry into the war, the authorities deliberately and uncritically passed along British propaganda which wildly exaggerated or just plain fabricated German atrocities. (Sadly for all concerned, real German acts of brutality, especially in the conquered Low Countries, gave this propaganda an air of plausibility.)
It's unfortunate that, given its time and circumstances, this movie can only hint at the pervasive ugliness of these manufactured images of the gleefully nun-raping, baby-bayoneting "Bestial Hun", and the vicious persecution it inspired against German immigrants.
Though the glimpses it does show are often harrowing, as the story tracks the collapse of the blissful marriage between a professor (Otto Kruger) from Germany who teaches at a small college, and his American wife (Barbara Stanwyck), under the pressure of the growing hatred and intolerance they face from almost everyone around them. Even if the plot's predictable and the final twist is pretty contrived, and with few exceptions the acting and direction are about what you'd expect from a time when talking pictures were only four years old, I still have to give Warner Brothers some credit simply for having made a film -- even a low-budget "weeper" like this -- showing at least in some small way how war can corrode our humanity on the home front, too.
The other major thing this picture has going for it from my point of view is, of course, Barbara Stanwyck: In the moments when she subtly transcends what could otherwise have been just another mawkish, pedestrian melodrama, you can clearly see a great actress who's just beginning to hit her stride. She even manages to make the somewhat over-the-top final moments watchable, if not quite believable.
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