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Jean Renoir managed to flee France because of the Nazi invasion and
spent World War II turning out some pretty good films in America. Maybe
the best is this heartfelt tribute to his beloved and occupied France.
He got the best possible actor for his protagonist. Charles Laughton could play tortured and flawed human beings like no other actor ever could in the English speaking world. Here he is a French schoolteacher, middle-aged, shy, and mother dominated by Una O'Connor. And he's afraid of his own shadow.
He also loves neighbor and fellow schoolteacher Maureen O'Hara and she's got a fiancé who's a collaborator and a brother in the resistance played by George Sanders and Kent Smith.
It's all these people's story and even the local gauleiter Walter Slezak is not a simple brute as Nazis are so often portrayed.
The story involves Laughton's growth as a human being, seeing what is happening to his town, the people around him, and most of all to the school to both the children and the teachers. The last twenty minutes of the film are almost exclusively his. In both a courtroom and a classroom, he has some brilliantly delivered speeches explaining to the town why they must resist the evil upon them.
For me the best scene is in the courtroom where Laughton is accused of murder and throws away a carefully prepared script that Slezak has offered him. He tells the town what they need to hear and then declares his love for O'Hara and the reasons for him doing what he's doing.
During that part of Laughton's speech the camera focuses totally on Maureen O'Hara and her reactions to Laughton's words. It's a beautiful crafted scene by a great director.
A film classic for the ages.
Here is a film that everyone should see. It is real and sublime and
each character in the picture has a growth arc that is fascinating to
watch. Charles Laughton is the master in this as we see him as
the town coward a man afraid of everything. An older man who has
learned little of life and less about expressing his love for his
school teaching colleague played by O'Hara.
Laughton learns hard lessons as the film progresses. Walter Slezak's portrayal of a Nazi officer in
charge of the French town is marvelous. He captures the nature of
the will of Fascism and it's unrelenting and sinister application of
pure power using the minds of men. George Sanders, is the
businessman who makes sure things work for the Germans, who
doesn't strain over the matter of occupation by the Nazis until he is
forced to reveal his best friend is the saboteur fighting the
occupation. There is so much more in this film that deals with
oppression and the only way to fight it.
I love this film.
Charles Laughton delivers one of the finest courtroom speeches that you
ever likely to see (it certainly ranks with Spencer Tracy in "Inherit the
Wind", or Gregory Peck in "To Kill a Mockingbird" ). Here, though,
is not pleading the case for the defense or the prosecution, he is
for his own life in a Nazi "show-trial".
Rather than saving his own life by following the instructions of the German authorities, Laughton chooses to use the opportunity presented by his conducting his own defense to launch a masterful indictment of the Nazi regime. His speech to the jurors and the packed, public galleries is delivered with the sincerity and authority which only an actor with Laughton's many talents, could hope to muster. Inspired by Laughton's speech, the jurors find the courage to acquit him and Laughton dashes from the court to the school where he is a teacher.
Having made such a speech, Laughton knows that he has signed his own death warrant. There is just time, before the German soldiers come to take him away, for one final speech to his beloved class of school-children. Once again, Laughton produces the goods in this very touching scene as he reads to the children articles from the Declaration of the Rights of Man.
Most of this film is typical, low-budget, World War Two propaganda but Laughton raises it above the mediocre. Maureen O'Hara is gorgeous as the fellow teacher with whom Laughton is in love. Also worth watching, as ever, is Una O'Connor as Laughton's mother.
In an interview with Cahiers du Cinema in the 1950s, Renoir reluctantly
referred to this film as "my own propaganda." Early Hollywood depictions
the french had portrayed them as unscrupulous collaborators. (That
Casablanca). Renoir, who was in France when it fell, was justified to
this was an unfair portrayal. This Land is Mine was his way of showing
America what it was like to be a conquered country. Each character
an icon of every section of French society. It's not trademark 'Renoir'
he admits it. Because it was so important to make sure the film found its
audience, he says he "took less risks"
The mission worked. The film was a success and attitudes towards the French changed... two other Warner Bros films, also starring Bogart, made after Casablanca (and more importantly This Land is Mine), portray the French as heros and patriots with a just cause.
Brilliant acting, brilliant script, brilliant propaganda!
One of greatest anti-war films with memorable acting from Charles
Laughton , Maureen O'Hara and George Sanders . It's a moving reflexion
about war , sacrifice and death . A mild-mannered schoolteacher
(Charles Laughton) in a Nazi occupied town during WWII finds himself
being torn between collaboration and resistance . He is quite friendly
with his fellow teacher , Louise Martin (Maureen O'Hara) and her
brother Paul (Kent Smith ) . Meanwhile , at school and street many
prohibited books, considered "un-German," were broken or burned in the
book-burning pile . Albert is charged with murder but the local Nazi
commander, Major Erich Von Keller (Walter Slezak) , offers him a deal .
At the end the teacher begins reading to his students "The Declaration
of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen" (French: Déclaration Des
Droits l'Homme Et Du Citoyen), a fundamental document of the French
This is an excellent classic anti-war movie and deals about sacrifice , collaboration , comradeship , human relations and in which a shy man is drawn into the actions of the resistance . A heart-breaker and elegiac movie in the way it shows war undercutting and qualities of a timid but good teacher . This is a well-paced , deliberate and magnetic drama set in WWII . It is a riveting film dealing with thought-provoking issues , wonderful acting and anti-Nazi denounce . Anyway, the film is very interesting , thematically intriguing and brooding . Time has not diminished its qualities nor its charming to the emotions . Interesting performances enhance an eloquent screenplay by Dudley Nichols . Impressive defense final speech , though propaganda , which is arousing the citizens in court . The film opened simultaneously at 72 theaters in 50 key cities on 7 May 1943, setting a box office record for gross receipts on an opening day. Excellent acting by the great Charles Laughton , giving a remarkable , self-effecting performance as a coward , mild-mannered teacher who is drawn into the actions of the resistance . Very good support cast includes extraordinary actors as George Sanders as George Lambert , Walter Slezak as Major Erich Von Keller , Kent Smith as Paul Martin and special mention to Una O'Connor as mother at a sympathetic though exaggerated interpretation .
The film is excellently screen-written and directed by Jean Renoir who approach the intensity and feel of his best works. Son of painter impressionist Auguste Renoir , was perhaps the best of French directors . At its initial French period he directed classics as ¨Boudu saved drowning, Rules of the game, Marseillaise, Day in the country¨ and of course ¨Grand Illusion¨ in which his optimism remains relentless . Renoir was in Hollywood for seven years, where he made ¨Swamp water, Southerner, Diary of chambermaid, This land is mine,and Woman on the beach¨. He returned France where directed other classic films as ¨Carrozza dóro, Testament Dr Cordelier, Picnic on the grass, Vanishing corporal¨ and several others. His films have influenced on Francois Truffaut, Luchino Visconti, Satyajit Ray , among them. Rating : above average, an extraordinary and sensational film.
In 1944 Warner Brothers produced, as a pro-Free French propaganda movie,
PASSAGE TO MARSEILLE. It was directed by Michael Curtiz, and starred
"CASABLANCA" alumni Humphrey Bogart, Claude Rains, Sidney Greenstreet, and
Peter Lorre. The end result was a mishmash of flashbacks, which failed to
deliver the message of our brave allies the Free French. In retrospect,
Bogart's subsequent first film with Lauren Bacall, TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, was
better in presenting the threat of Vichy France in the performances of Dan
Seymour and Sheldon Leonard as the local Vichy policemen in Martinique. But
the script was better too!
Had Warner Brothers wanted to see a good propaganda film about France under the Nazis, they need only have gone back to 1943 and this gem by the great French director Jean Renoir. Renoir always belittled his films in exile in Hollywood, but THE SOUTHERNER, THIS LAND IS MINE, THE DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID, are pretty good films, even if they don't match LES GRAND ILLUSION or RULES OF THE GAME. Not everything by a director can be that great. Here Renoir concentrated on how the occupied French lived under the pressure of the occupying Nazis. From the corrupt Mayor (Thurston Hall, naturally) who is more concerned about the safety of his personal wealth than his neighbors, to the corrupted judiciary (George Coulouris, as a prosecutor fully cooperating with the real authorities) to the frightened and elderly (Una O'Connor, as the mother of Charles Laughton - willing to lie about her neighbors and collaborate if it will protect her son and herself), it is a very sad picture of the reality.
Three characters in particular stand out: Laughton, George Sanders, and Walter Slezak. Laughton is a momma's boy, who is timid. He loves Maureen O'Hara (their second teaming after THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME), but she is more impressed by Sanders, who is involved in running the railroad yard. Slezak, the local Nazi bigwig, makes a habit of showing his "pleasant" side to people like Hall, Coulouris, and Sanders, whom he relies on to make the village run smoothly. So he reassures them about their status and power. But while Hall and Coulouris are corrupt power seekers (or wealth preservers), Sanders has a conscience. He is aware of the Free French fighters, and is aware why they are sabotaging his rail yard, to prevent materiel and men to help the German war effort. When he helps the Nazis kill several (including an old friend) he commits suicide in his office. But this is a Renoir movie...he takes a leaf from the conclusion of Le Grand Illusion. There Eric von Stroheim is forced to kill his French aristocratic counterpart who seemed to be trying to escape. When Pierre Fresney dies, von Stroheim destroys the one element of beauty - a flower - in the drab castle/prison he runs. In THIS LAND IS MINE, a sad faced Sanders opens his office window wide, and releases his pet birds. After he watches them fly away, he kills himself. It makes his end more unbearable to watch that.
Laughton is accused (due to circumstances) of the "murder" of Sanders. As he is a popular teacher, Slezak figures out that he might be amendable to a deal for his life, and visits him for that reason. Laughton is timid, and does not wish to die. He is also anxious for his mother, who is beside herself with fear for him. So he takes the deal, which will enable him to be acquitted. But then (after Slezak leaves), Laughton witnesses the execution of several prisoners, including a man he admired - the principal of his school. He rethinks the entire situation. When he is taken to court, in the present of Slezak, the Mayor, a befuddled Coulouris (who tries to prevent him from speaking anymore), and the judge, jury and townspeople, Laughton eloquently explains the forces that drove Sanders to his suicide, and the same evil forces that infected his town. Laughton is acquitted for the murder, and leaves the courtroom. He returns to his classroom with Maureen O'Hara, and gives a final lesson on freedom and patriotism to his students as the Nazis come to rearrest him again. It is a moving and expert conclusion to a fine film.
I can vaguely remember seeing this movie on television years ago, and
recalled it as a movie with an anti-Nazi message. Seeing it again
recently, and with a lifetime of reading behind me, I realize it has
further depths of meaning.
Despite the pretense of being set "somewhere in Europe," it is beyond doubt that Renoir had France very specifically in mind. He was a French émigré, and it's clear that he has a message for his countrymen about the great number of them that chose to collaborate with the Germans. But the film is not a sledgehammer, in that the Germans are not portrayed as the stereotypical jackbooted thugs. Their official voice in the film, the officer played by Walter Slezak, has a silky sort of charm and shows how easy it can be to cooperate in the name of so many things - peace, order, stability, etc. etc. Laughton's final courtroom speech has so many specific references to the situation in France that it cannot be interpreted as other than such. And the final finishing touch is Laughton's last lesson to his students before being taken away - he reads from the "Declaration of the Rights of Man" from the French Revolution.
Aside from that it is an excellent story very well told, and the production values are extremely high - the print I saw looked excellent even after 60-some years. The cast, of course, is superb, with Laughton, Slezak, and Maureen O'Hara. Particularly good is George Sanders, in a role very different from his stereotype as the suave and debonair cynic. The whole "mama's boy" aspect of Laughton's character is a bit heavy-handed, but it's still to watch Una O'Connor as his mother (you just can't help recalling her tavern woman's part in "The Invisible Man").
Thsi is not just an excellent movie, but an interesting historical artifact as well.
Laughton is magnificent as the apolitical teacher who finds he must take a stand in Nazi-occupied France. The supporting cast is also terrific and the direction is outstanding. This is a movie that works on many levels. Laughton finds that not resisting in Nazi-occupied France is a worse faith than death.
This isn't a perfect film, but it is well worth a watch or two. Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion is one of my very favorite films, and in comparison This Land Is Mine is weak. Even in comparison to Rules of the Game which, while often considered the second best film ever made, I find rather flawed, it has weak direction. In its own right, This Land is Mine is quite a good film. Just don't expect another Renoir masterpiece. The direction is pretty basic. Anyone could have directed it, and I was hoping that Renoir would have brought a more personal passion to the project. Hollywood does generally have a tendency for neutering great European directors (though I know Renoir made a couple of films in America that are considered to be great). The script is decent, but nothing too special. The story involves a French town occupied by Nazis, espionage by the French Resistance, and a man who sticks up for freedom. It's pretty obvious, but 1943 wasn't a time for subtlety. What makes this film above average are its performances. That Charles Laughton was one of the greatest actors who ever lived is well known. His performance here is amazing. His courtroom speech, and I don't like those much generally, is very good. Maureen O'Hara is very good, too, but I wish her part was bigger. She has a couple of great scenes, but her character is not well developed. George Sanders gives a great performance, too. I've only seen him in one other film, the fabulous All About Eve, in which he played the venomous fishwife Addison DeWitt. I think his performance here is even better. So check This Land Is Mine out if you ever get the chance. 8/10.
This film was set in an unnamed nation that was just conquered by the
Nazis. Given the statue of the WWI soldier at the beginning of the
movie, it probably was intended as either Belgium or France (given the
style uniform on the statue). However, in an odd Hollywood decision,
the cast was made up of a wide variety of actors and accents--such as
the very American Kent Smith, the Irish Maureen O'Hara, Englishman
Charles Laughton and the very cultured George Sanders (who hailed from
Russia from English parents). It was also confusing because the country
was just conquered and yet by this point the Americans were apparently
in the war (meaning it most likely occurred in 1942 or 43)--and no
nation fit this pattern. All were fine actors, however, and the
excellent writing made me forget about all this.
The story of this fictional nation is all about collaboration versus resistance. Some are obviously evil and seem to like the Germans--or at least look to get rich off the suffering of their own people. Some appear to be collaborators but are actually brave resistance fighters. And Laughton is a nice case--a very wimpy 'everyman' who eventually finds his strength of character through the course of the film.
While some might find this all a bit hokey, the film was an excellent piece of positive propaganda. It must have been incredibly rousing when it debuted and according to IMDb it set box office records. Good acting and a nice script make this one of the better films of its type--well worth watching and memorable--especially for Laughton's fine characterization as well as his impressive speech near the end.
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