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They Dare Not Love (1941)

An Austrian prince flees his homeland when the Nazis take over and settles in London. While in London, he meets a beautiful Austrian émigré who makes him realize his mistake in leaving ... See full summary »

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Marta Keller
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Baron von Helsing
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Storyline

An Austrian prince flees his homeland when the Nazis take over and settles in London. While in London, he meets a beautiful Austrian émigré who makes him realize his mistake in leaving Austria. He makes a deal with the Nazis to return in exchange for some Austrian prisoners, but discovers that the Nazis are not to be trusted. Written by frankfob2@yahoo.com / editing by TrivWhiz

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Drama | War

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16 May 1941 (USA)  »

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We Dare Not Love  »

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1.37 : 1
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Director James Whale's final completed feature, shot January 6-February 22 1941. His final film was Hello Out There (1949) which was never released. See more »

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Bland with good moments.
15 August 2013 | by See all my reviews

When Germany annexes Austria in 1938, Austrian prince Kurt von Rotenberg (Brent) escapes to the United States, where he gets romantically involved with his old acquaintance Marta (Scott), whose father (Brecher) reprimands him for not doing enough to help his people. Meanwhile, Gestapo officer von Helsing (Lukas) would very much like to see Kurt neutralized one way or the other, since he's a rallying point for Austrian dissidents.

James Whale's last film, where he was replaced as director due to various disagreements, has its points of interest but doesn't measure up to his earlier work. Many films similar to this one were made during World War II, stories about self sacrificing heroes and sinister Germans, but it's unusual and rather endearing that the heroes in this one are Austrians and that even the most evil of the villains, von Helsing, has some human qualities.

They Dare Not Love has some of the romantically doom laden atmosphere of Casablanca, although nowhere on the same level, while retaining much of the champagne-soaked, luxury cruise ship lightness of pre-war romances, which makes it a rather mixed emotional experience. There is no doubt that the filmmakers took the plight of the dissenting Austrians seriously or that they regarded Germany as the threat that it was, but there is an air of nonchalance to much of the movie, which may be due to several causes: the divided directorial vision, a wish to bring some fluffy entertainment to war-weary audiences, and/or the blandness of Brent and Scott.

Visually, there are some classic James Whale touches, the most prominent one showing a body laid down beneath a giant crucifix at a muddy crossroads, but otherwise the film looks good without drawing attention to itself. In terms of energy it moves at a medium pace doing what it's supposed to do without many peaks and valleys, though I'll assume that a certain scene with Lukas and Bonen (see below) was either written or elaborated on by Whale and his peculiar brand of humour.

The story moves mainly in luxurious, trendy environments (at one point the signs of fashionable night clubs flash by in a montage), which is a rather good choice in showing the way Kurt throws himself into pleasures in order to forget about his duty and his sense of helplessness, so part of the perceived nonchalance is no doubt intended to highlight just what a change Kurt goes through when deciding to leave it all behind and make an attempt to help his countrymen. However, Brent isn't enough of an actor to make this change sufficiently startling to justify all the shallowness that has gone before, and his deficiency is compounded further by the feebleness and stupidity of the plan he comes up with to lend assistance.

In itself, the very clumsiness of his attempt at sacrifice is actually rather brilliant, giving us a human and flawed protagonist who really doesn't know how to be a hero, but this whole concept falls almost completely flat due to Brent's inability to give Kurt enough life – it's difficult to be touched by the failed heroic gestures of a cardboard cutout.

Paul Lukas brings more to his character of von Helsing, who is also more inventively written than the stereotypical heroes. This Gestapo agent is evil, no two ways about it, but in a less feral way than you'd expect: he schemes to get Kurt married to an American woman so that he'll stay in the States rather than go back to Austria and lead the rebels. One has to admit this is a rather humane way of solving the problem, but of course in the end he does get around to plotting Kurt's demise. Lukas and Bonen also have a fun scene, probably the most vibrant in the picture, where they're arbitrarily arguing about whether a particular snatch of music is by Beethoven or Haydn.

Brent and Scott are dull as butter knives, making it hard to care much about their cause or their growing love, but the supporting cast is seasoned with splendid character actors who bring some bite to what could otherwise have become solid tedium. Brecher, Barrier and Reicher were all prolific film actors who always made their presence felt, and it's good to see a very young Lloyd Bridges as a humourless Nazi.

And then there's Peter Cushing, whose last Hollywood film this was before he went back to Britain. He appears when there are only three minutes left to go, but makes quite an impression, having a number of lines (delivered in that un-Peter Cushing-like voice he had when young) and projecting a commanding presence for all his youth. Immature as I am, I also giggled at the fact that he's appearing in a film by Frankenstein director Whale (their second one together, the first being The Man in the Iron Mask) and which features a character named if not Van, then at least von Helsing.

Disposable fluff and hardly a worthy swan song for Whale, They Dare Not Love is at least passable fun for the moment.

Not, it should be noted, an entirely easy film to get hold of, but it's out there.


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