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
In the severely re-edited, re-titled re-release, all references to the Russian nationality of the participants in the original story was either eliminated or obscured. See more »
As the group of children leaves town for Kiev, they are shown walking past the same house twice in succession. See more »
Boris Stepanich Simonov, truck driver:
Comrades, we have good reasons to know our country is at war. In our small village alone, 30 people have been injured. Eleven people have been killed. But his is not a time for mourning - it is time for revenge. We will divide into two groups, each to do his duty from this day until death. The able-bodied men are to come forward to the right of this building. We will move from our village to the hills to take our position as guerrillas. I will go immediate to comrade Commander Petrov's garrison...
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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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