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Freighter bound for New York is attacked by German submarine when England declares war on Germany
"Escape to Glory" is a little gem of a movie. It moves along swiftly, always generating interest and keeping us involved. Pat O'Brien is the lead actor. He gives us a nicely shaded performance in which he starts out seeming to be a cynical mercenary, romances the worldly Constance Bennett, and ends up fending off a German submarine attack with spunk. But the movie is really very much a vehicle for the entire cast. Those civilians on an English freighter bound for New York and certain of the crew members are all highlighted and developed in the screenplay. The actors involved are not all household names, but some are certainly recognizable. They show what Hollywood was capable of in the golden era of the studio system, and this was a b-production of Columbia.
The director is John Brahm, a very capable craftsman and a noir auteur from the German school. Before doing "Escape to Glory", he had been doing movies that were pre-noir or even full-fledged noir, including "Let Us Live" (1939) and "Rio" (1939). He would go on to do the atmospheric "The Undying Monster" (1942) and then classic noirs like "The Lodger" (1944), "Guest in the House" (1944), "Hangover Square" (1945), "The Locket" (1946) and "The Brasher Doubloon" (1947).
Alan Baxter shines as a murderer in conflict with the two-faced John Halliday. Edgar Buchanan provides some comic relief. Erwin Kalser plays a German doctor. During the voyage, England declares war on Germany. Kalser's loyalty becomes a pivotal issue. The ship is attacked by a German submarine, leading into the central action that takes up the film's second half.
I really marvel at the way in which an old film like this is shot and edited, such well-composed shots put together so fluidly and effectively. Everything is focused and advances the story. Even with characters that are sometimes clichéd, they still feel real. The overall impression is so different from so many modern movies that, by contrast, seem much slower and flabbier, much less creative in the composition of images and editing, even though there is often stunning cinematography in them and even though action scenes move quickly.
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