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In a peaceful Ukrainian village, the school year is just ending in June 1941. Five young friends set out for a walking trip to Kiev, but their travels are brutally interrupted when they are suddenly attacked by German planes, in the first wave of the Nazi assault on the Soviet Union. When the village itself is attacked and occupied, most of the men flee to the hills to form a guerrilla unit. The others resist the Nazis as well as possible, but soon the village is placed under the command of a Nazi doctor who begins using the town's children as a source of constant blood transfusions for wounded German soldiers. Meanwhile, the small group of young persons tries desperately to take a supply of firearms to the guerrillas. Written by
This is one of the films deemed "subversive" by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) in October, 1947, at the height of the McCarthy "Red Scare" era. The committee decided that, even though Russia was our ally against Nazi Germany in World War II - when this film was made - the movie's sympathetic portrayal of Russian peasants and guerrillas who were fighting off Nazi forces was an "endorsement" of Communism. See more »
During the wagon ride in the hay-cart while the peasants are singing, little Grisha is shown first with, then without, and finally with his harmonica. See more »
Be a man of the world in front of your own mirror. It's better that way - mirrors don't talk back.
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Director Lewis Milestone's "The North Star" shouldn't be viewed in embarrassed silence: it's a snapshot of a bleak period in World War II when Hollywood catered to the government's policy of portraying the recently despised and then of necessity embraced Soviet government and its population as heroic, implacable anti-Nazis.
Look at the credits: Anne Baxter, Dana Andrews, Two Walters (Huston and Brennan), Farley Granger, Dean Jagger and the aging but still chillingly evil Erich von Stroheim. And the screenplay - Lillian Hellman. Aaron Copland, the dean of American classical composers, provided a serviceable score that pales by comparison to the music that today is his contribution to the nation's music heritage.
"The North Star" tells the story, at any rate a story, of the resistance of Ukraine villagers to the thundering German blitzkrieg that brought incredible initial success following the launching of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941. There is little historically accurate about either the portrayal of the German advance or the rapid mobilization of patriotic and death-before-submission villagers who love their land with a fierce and unquenchable patriotism. In reality very many in the invaded areas initially hoped the Germans would liberate them from malign Stalinism and only the occupier's stupid and counterproductive terrorism awakened a staunch resistance movement. But this didn't happen overnight.
The characters are largely one-dimensional and wooden, each playing out a politically correct vision of the real events. Children are slaughtered, German doctors engage in unorthodox practices, villagers rally around men and women of strength and character.
Obviously 1943 audiences, targets of American government efforts to persuade them of the necessity and justice of arming the Soviet Union though Lend/Lease (actually Give/Never Get Back Anything), had a different experience than I had when I last saw this film (this morning on cable TV while devouring bagels with cream cheese accompanied by ample juice libations). But "The North Star" is a window not only into the history of World War II film but also into the germination of the postwar search for Communists and fellow travelers in Hollywood. What brought kudos in '43 led to scary and destructive investigations in the late forties and early fifties. "The North Star" deserves some credit for careers later ruined, lives destroyed and the Blacklist.
Sensing that times and tides had changed, an atrociously butchered recut of "The Dark Star" appeared in 1953 as "Armored Attack," the same film de-Sovietized. They had to cut the original from 105 minutes to a mere 82 to "cleanse" the film of the Red Menace. It's worth watching the two versions sequentially. They showcase the impact of the Cold War on Hollywood.
It's hard to give a rating to "The North Star." Except for the joy of seeing Von Stroheim roll out his patented dark side this is an artificially tame war film in the age of "Saving Private Ryan" and "Platoon." But as a history lesson it well rewards the time spent viewing this page from a perilous time.
Please, if you're going to rent this film, respect the original and don't get the "colorized" version.
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