A group of French soldiers during WWII are captured by Nazis troops and sent to a military prison. There they will have to make use of his best resources to keep alive... and sane, while at the same time scheming a way out.
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With the onset of World War II, Frenchmen from all walks of life enlist in the army. The war is short-lived however as the Nazis quickly defeat them and Marshall Petain signs a peace agreement with the invaders. The troops surrender but rather that being repatriated to their homes as expected, they all find themselves in a military prison. Conditions are difficult with little food and poor medical conditions. The men resist as best they can and for some, like Paul, they are prepared to spend time in solitary confinement and be subjected to beatings if need be. For others, such as Duval, collaboration with their Nazi jailers is the route to an easier life. The men find solace in the company of Father Sebastian, a priest who was also in the army. He counsels them wisely and in the case of Paul, gives him strength to face the daily challenge of simply living. When Paul gets an opportunity however, he helps his fellow prisoners escape. When they liberate a village, they all realize that ... Written by
Very effective American propaganda piece made in the beginning of the war and centered around a couple of handfuls of French soldiers capitulating at Marshall Pétain's order and being made prisoners of war in the German part of Alsace.
Director Tay Garnett was an acknowledged master of light and shadow, and not just in the cinematographic sense. Lots of issues are at stake here, and although all the characters are somewhat larger than life, the hesitant lawyer, wonderfully, luminously played by Jean-Pierre Aumont, and the cabdriver, acted by a young, doe-eyed Gene Kelly, both help to give human texture to the admittedly rather formulaic plotline, and neither is a hero in the textbook Hollywood sense. The most interesting conflict in the film would be how to deal with the Hume Cronyn character, a French soldier who sympathizes with the Nazis and serves as a translater / snitch in the POW camp. Should he be killed without a trial, or would that, even in wartime, be a violation of basic French principles of jurisprudence and democracy?
'The Cross of Lorraine' is a very, very good film and a far cry from American WW2 movies we see today, they are all much more banal and onesided.
The film was obviously inspired by Jean Renoir's ultimate antiwar movie, 'The Grand Illusion', and in its turn inspired Stuart Rosenberg's tough prison movie 'Cool Hand Luke'.
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