The Roth family lead a quiet life in a small village in the German Alps during the early 1930's. When the Nazi's come to power, the family is divided and Martin Brietner, a family friend is caught up in the turmoil.
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Interesting to note that the film was made in 1940, 1 year before America's entry into the European war against Hitler. The movie depicts Germany in 1933. In 1938 the 'night of broken glass' took place. Interesting to note the attitudes portrayed in the film, definitely anti-Nazi. Written by
Reports claimed that uncredited co-producer Victor Saville actually directed large portions of the film. See more »
[white clouds appear; they quickly turn to storm clouds]
When man was new upon the earth, he was frightened by the dangers of the elements. He cried out, "The gods of the lightning are angry, and I must kill my fellow man to appease them!" As man grew bolder, he created shelters against the wind and the rain and made harmless the force of the lightning. But within man himself were elements strong as the wind and terrible as the lightning. And he denied the existence of these ...
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I've often thought that the best way to see The Mortal Storm is back to back with Three Comrades. Both films are about post World War I Germany, both films from MGM, both films have Margaret Sullavan, and Robert Young in them and both directed by Frank Borzage. Three Comrades has its story take place during the Weimar Republic with the beginning of the rise of Nazism and The Mortal Storm takes place as the Nazis are solidifying their control over Germany.
Both films are about how the political changes affect some very ordinary people. This film deals with the Roth family, Frank Morgan and Irene Rich, their children Margaret Sullavan and Gene Reynolds and Irene's sons by a first marriage, William T. Orr and Robert Stack. And of course Robert Young and James Stewart who are rivals for Sullavan.
The stepsons and Young are confirmed Nazis, they see Hitler's rise to power as a great thing, that Germany will take her place among the first rank of nations. Morgan, Stewart and Sullavan are appalled by the excesses and brutality in stamping out any contrary opinions that think the Third Reich is not a good thing.
It's hard to believe, but before World War II, Jimmy Stewart was cast in a few roles that are foreign types. Later on Stewart was the quintessential American character and the public would never have accepted him. He played non-Americans in Seventh Heaven, The Shop Around the Corner, and The Mortal Storm. The last two were done to critical and commercial success. Stewart's character of Martin Breitner, a farmer who wants to be a veterinarian, is as idealistic and decent as the very American Jefferson Smith. Probably why the public accepted Stewart in this role.
Also because the entire cast is American with the notable exception of Maria Ouspenskaya as Stewart's mother. So no foreign speech pattern stood out.
Frank Morgan was usually cast at MGM as a comic befuddled buffoon. Here in The Mortal Storm he shows his great skill as a player going completely against how he was usually typed. He's a college science professor who will not teach any Nazi pseudo-science about racial superiority of the Germans. His non-Aryan, read Jewish, name is carefully noted several times though the word 'Jew' is never used.
Margaret Sullavan once again is a tragic heroine. Considering the limited amount of films she did, I think Margaret Sullavan had more screen deaths per film than any other female player. She carried an aura of tragedy about her, probably a carry over from her real life. She and Stewart make a pair of tender lovers, just as she did in Three Comrades with Robert Taylor. Their life and happiness together are sacrificed by a brutal political regime.
Note the performances of Ward Bond as the local brownshirt, storm trooper leader and Dan Dailey as the young local head of the Hitler youth. Good studies in the kind of people the regime attracted and who could rise to the top in that kind of society.
The Mortal Storm still holds up well after over 60 years, a great study in the early days of a regime that made the world suffer.
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