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Set in German-occupied Paris, the plot concerns the day-to-day
struggles of the French resistance during WWII, made all the more
believable by a cast chosen from among real-life refugees in other
words those who were eye-witnesses to the film's historical backdrop. I
suspect that when "Paris After Dark" played in small-town America, the
world it unveiled was still rather exotic. Even with full-on U.S
involvement after Pearl Harbor, the idea of an underground resistance
for most Americans was something shadowy and obscure. New York Times
reviewer Bosley Crowther, though not at all impressed, did acknowledge
"the terrible tragedy of the French people under Nazi occupation" which
the film evoked. However, this is a film that holds its own alongside
similar portrayals of the war in Europe, such as Robert Stevenson's
"Joan of Paris" and William Wyler's "Mrs. Miniver", the latter in which
the inimitable Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon bolstered the moral
imperative of continued U.S. involvement.
Fans of "Casablanca" (1942) will recognize the lovely Madeleine LeBeau in a supporting role. According to Wikipedia, LeBeau, along with her husband, Marcel Dalio, escaped from Paris in June, 1940, just ahead of the Nazi advance, eventually finding their way to the U.S. Fans of George Sanders will love his role as a heroic leader of the underground movement. But the stars of the film are Brenda Marshall and Philip Dorn. Some viewers may recall Marshall as the scientist Nora Goodrich in Anthony Mann's "Strange Impersonation" (1946). The Dutch-born Dorn was better known as an actor in Germany but who also moved to the U.S. with the war's outbreak. Director Leonide Moguy sought refuge in the States in a similar manner. He also directed the interesting noir, "Whistle Stop" (1946), with George Raft and Ava Gardner before returning to France. In short, this was a cast and company that appeared to know first-hand what they were portraying during one of the war's bleakest periods.
As of this writing, it is available as a Fox Cinema Archives release, and well worth tracking down, if only for the history lesson it movingly portrays.
George Sanders plays a French doctor without a French accent. He plays
Germans well and even speaks in a German accent, but he can't play a
French doctor without sounding quintessentially English.
The young brother of the French protagonist, Jean, is quite bold and brave standing up for what he believes and speaking out against oppression. To be honest it;s the French characters that make this film work. Sanders merely lends his name to sell the film, but he contributes very little in terms of his performance.
I would advise Sanders fans to stay away from this film as it comes nowhere near the quality of 'Manhunt' or 'Tales of Manhattan'.
This movie has a lot of weaknesses, but its heart is in the right
place, and there are definitely good moments for those who enjoy this
sort of movie.
The only other reviewer of this movie here on IMDb mentioned "Mrs. Miniver," and the comparison is very valid. That very stirring if often melodramatic movie was made to convince Americans in the early 1940s, still given to isolationism, that the English were worth helping because they were good, decent, and courageous people.
"Paris After Dark" is very similar in that it was made to convince Americans that France, too, merited our help. The situation was very different, however, so the convincing had to be different.
France had declared an armistice shortly after being overrun by the Nazi war machine in 1940. Maréchal Pétain, head of the French armed forces, convinced the government to do so, and then collaborated with the Nazis for the rest of the war, for which he was tried after it. As a result, many Americans saw the French as cowardly and lacking in the sort of moral fiber that "Mrs. Miniver" spends all its time demonstrating to be the very essence of the English character.
So "Paris After Dark" spends a lot of time arguing that 1) the average Frenchman and -woman, Joe/Jane France, was really courageous, and had had nothing to do with signing the armistice, and 2) that all of France, all classes and both sexes, were already fighting the Nazis through the Resistance, even at the risk of their own lives - thereby showing their courage, moral fiber, etc.
This produces a lot of stirring speeches by various of the characters, which, admittedly, often come off as unnaturally oratorical. But you can see what the scriptwriters and the director were trying to achieve.
The acting is uneven. George Sanders and Philip Dorn are both very good. Both are men who have to be won over to the Resistance efforts, and their conversions are convincing. Brenda Marshall, the female lead, sometimes overacts, and is not at their level. Marcel Dalio, so good in so many movies, doesn't do a convincing job with the traitor barber.
If you've seen American movies made in the 1930s that are set in France, you know that Hollywood had often presented the French as rather foolish. Here it does an admirable job of presenting a wide spectrum of French folk, among them lots of average but very noble individuals.
Yes, it's preachy at times. But the cause justified that.
If Hollywood's contributions to the war effort interest you, you will find much of interest here.
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