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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
The only reason that North Star gets as high as three stars is because of the awesome amount of talent invested in this film both in front of and behind the camera. Otherwise The North Star would be down there with such efforts from World War II as Joan of Ozark and Hitler, Dead or Alive.
The North Star may be the only war film in history that has a choreographer in its credits. The first half of the film would qualify it as a musical with a score by Aaron Copland and Ira Gershwin. No hit songs came out of this film, the music is serviceable to underscore the mood of the happy peasants of the Soviet Union secure in the blessings of their revolution, but ready to fight the fascist invader who dare take their sacred revolution away.
Written by a hardcore Marxist like Lillian Hellman, how could you expect it to come out any other way? Even MGM's Song of Russia or RKO's Days of Glory kept the glorification of Stalin's Soviet Union to a minimum and concentrated on the invaders and how to repulse them.
Seeing Walter Brennan as a Russian peasant is laughable enough, but that dialog about how wonderful the Russian Revolution was in bringing prosperity and peace to the land must have made the very right wing Mr. Brennan hurl after each take. Somehow Brennan was far more acceptable as a peasant farmer from West Virginia than one from the Ukraine. Though he talks just about the same. I'm guessing he felt it would even look more ridiculous attempting an accent.
Walter Huston got double whammied during World War II for Soviet apologia. He played Ambassador Joseph E. Davies in the film adaption of Davies's book Mission to Moscow for Warner Brothers. That was the other great Soviet apologetic film from this era. But if Huston could keep a straight face doing The Outlaw, doing these two would have been no problem.
Dana Andrews and Farley Granger play a couple of peasant sons of Morris Carnovsky, Andrews is on leave from the Soviet Air Force. At his country's call to arms, Andrews responds, Granger of course becomes a guerrilla fighter. This was Farley Granger's first film, he had been discovered in high school in southern California where his dad worked as an unemployment clerk. Granger in his memoirs recalls his father meeting many of Hollywood's greats between engagements when they were as eligible as the rest of America for unemployment insurance. Granger recalls with some fondness for the film as it was his first movie role, but he does realize it hasn't aged well. After this and The Purple Heart, Granger went into military service and resumed his career after World War II.
Anne Baxter, Jane Withers, Ann Harding play some of the peasant women who fight right along with their men folk. Erich Von Stroheim and Martin Kosleck play a pair of fiendish Nazi doctors, a couple of guys you just love to hate. Von Stroheim's scenes with Huston are priceless in their sincerity and their laughability today.
Lewis Milestone who directed and won an Oscar for All Quiet on the Western Front was in charge of putting this whole thing together. He had to have known that The North Star would not stand the test of time or history.
For those interested several years ago PBS ran a good documentary, narrated by Burt Lancaster about the Russian campaign of World War II. I'd recommend it rather than The North Star.
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