1939, Europe is in turmoil. The disturbing possibility of a coming war is also felt in The Netherlands and the government orders a mobilization. Frans van Loon, a young lawyer, is also drafted. He joins the Dutch Navy, but isn't dejected at all, in fact it was his lifelong dream to sail the seas. His dream was shattered when his wife Nellie made him choose: become a sailor or marry her. Still Frans is very devoted to Nellie and does everything in his power to make her life as happy as can be. At the navy, Frans volunteers for the mining division, a job not many people would want. Frans needs the money though, with his regular income gone and a big house to maintain. Meanwhile, at home, Nellie is getting more and more estranged from Frans though, especially after the actor Erik Detmar starts making advances aggressively. Torn by her feelings for Erik, Nellie makes a decision and seeks an opportunity to tell Frans. Written by
Arnoud Tiele (firstname.lastname@example.org)
This Dutch flag-waver about their navy was released in April of 1940. A month later the country capitulated in the face of the German invasion and they immediately banned this picture. I wonder what the director, Ludwig Berger, thought. His father had been exiled from Germany following the failed revolution of 1848 and had ended his life as a respected economist and sometimes Minister of Germany under Bismarck; and here he was, making a movie about how the Netherlands lurched unsteadily in the Second World War against Germany. He jumped over to England and his next assignment was as one of the six directors of THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD.
It's in the mold of a standard wartime potboiler, with that realization and growing sense of unity bringing together a disintegrating couple. Writer-star Jan de Hartog (best known to the English-speaking world as the writer of THE FOUR-POSTER) is a lawyer, although he would have been happier going to sea like his father and grandfather. Lily Bouwmeester is his fluttery wife who falls for a caddish actor, until the standard patriotic speech at the end.
If, like me, you've seen this movie from many national cinemas (American, Canadian, British, German, Russian and Japanese), this Dutch version is most interesting when it shows scenes that are peculiarly Dutch. There is an exchange between two characters that is particularly and understatedly emotional. The sailors are helping a farm girl carry away some beloved keepsakes before they cut the dikes and let the sea flood the land. One of the sailors talks about the farm he grew up on and how it broke his grandfather's heart to see them cut down his orchard.
The Dutch have battled the sea for more than a thousand tears, taking land from it to grow their own country. If they had to give that land back to the sea for a while, well, an old enemy like that becomes a friend in a peculiar way.
In the end, if you're a fan of old movies, you've probably seen dozens like this. After a while they seem much the same. Oh, the American ones are about the different nationalities; the British ones are about the different classes; the Japanese ones are about how everyone needs to sacrifice and the Russian ones are the bloodiest -- they show the heroic Russians pointing the gun and shooting the dastardly Nazis in the same frame -- but this one shows so well the particular attitudes of the Dutch that it is worth your time.
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