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It may (or may not) be considered interesting that the only reason I really
checked out this movie in the first place was because I wanted to see the
performance of the man who beat out Humphrey Bogart in his CASABLANCA (10/10
role for the Best Actor Oscar. (I still would have given the Oscar to Bogie,
but Paul Lukas did do a great job and deserved the nomination, at least.)
Well, I'm glad I did check this movie out, because I enjoyed it immensely. I
think the movie did preach a little, but not only did I not mind, I enjoyed
the speeches and was never bored with them.
The acting was outstanding in this movie. I especially enjoyed Paul Lukas, Lucile Watson (rightfully nominated for an Oscar), Bette Davis (wrongfully not nominated), George Coulouris and, oddly, Eric Roberts, who plays the middle child. I really enjoyed his character: an odd-looking boy who talks like some sort of philosopher. He just cracks me up. Even the characters name (Bodo) is funny.
The ending, in which Lukas's character was forced to do something he considered wrong even though he was doing it for all the right reasons, worked for me as well. I agreed with why he felt he had to what he did, and I understood why he couldn't quite explain it. The message this movie makes is a good and noble one, the scenery (meaning the house) is beautiful, and the acting is the excellent. Watch this movie if you ever get a chance.
Lillian Hellman, one of America's most famous women playwrights, was a
woman with a mission. Her leftist views were not well regarded at the
time in the country. In her memoir, she recounts her trip to the then,
Soviet Union, as she was intrigued with the so called successes
achieved by that system. "Watch on the Rhine" must have come as a
result of those years. The left wing in America, as all over the world
had an issue with the rise of fascism, not only in Europe, but in Japan
"Watch on the Rhine" was a play produced on Broadway eight months before the Pearl Harbor attack by the Japanese. In it Ms. Hellman was heralding America's entrance in World War II. The adaptation is credited to Ms. Hellman and Dashiell Hammett, her long time companion. As directed for the screen by Herman Shumlin, the film was well received when it premiered in 1943.
We are introduced to the Muller family, when the film opens. They are crossing the border to the United States from Mexico. They are to continue toward Mrs. Muller's home in Washington, D.C., where her mother, Fanny Farrelly, is a minor celebrity hostess. The Mullers, we realize are fleeing Europe because of the persecution there against the opponents of the advancing totalitarian regime in Germany. In fact, we thought, in a way, the Mullers could have been better justified if they were Jewish, fleeing from a sure extermination.
We find out that Mr. Muller has had a terrible time in his native land, as well as in other places because his outspokenness in denouncing Fascim. Little does he know that he is coming to his mother-in-law's house that is housing one of the worst exponents of that philosophy.
The film offers excellent acting all around. It is a curiosity piece because of Bette Davis' supporting role. Paul Lukas, repeating his Broadway role, is quite convincing as Kurt Muller, the upright man that wants to make a better world for himself and his family. Mr. Lukas does a great job portraying Kurt Muller, repeating the role that made him a stage luminary on Broadway.
The other best performance is by Lucile Watson, who plays Fanny Farrelly, the matriarch of this family. Geraldine Fitzgerald is seen as Marthe de Brancovis, a guest of the Farrellys, married to the contemptible Teck de Brancovis, a Nazi sympathizer, played by George Coulouris. Beulah Bondi, Donald Woods, and the rest of the supporting cast give good performances guided by Mr. Shumlin.
The film should serve as a reminder about the evils of totalitarian rule, no matter where.
Probably my all-time favorite movie, a story of selflessness, sacrifice and dedication to a noble cause, but it's not preachy or boring. It just never gets old, despite my having seen it some 15 or more times in the last 25 years. Paul Lukas' performance brings tears to my eyes, and Bette Davis, in one of her very few truly sympathetic roles, is a delight. The kids are, as grandma says, more like "dressed-up midgets" than children, but that only makes them more fun to watch. And the mother's slow awakening to what's happening in the world and under her own roof is believable and startling. If I had a dozen thumbs, they'd all be "up" for this movie.
Ever since I can remember and I'm only 18 my mother and I have been and
continue to watch older movies because well I find them much more
rewarding in the long run (but hey don't get me wrong I do love the
movies we have today just not as much as I love movies of the 40s and
50s) Anyways, now I have to say the moment I started watching the movie
my eyes were glued to the TV. Of course my favorite character was the
Grandmother played by Lucile Watson. But I loved the way Betty Davis
and her family was portrayed. The children...did not act like children
in the slightest. But there is good reason for that, having had to hid
and run most of your life, seeing the awful things children saw those
days destroyed their innocence. So people saying "oooo i hated how the
kids acted...blah blah blah" read between the lines and know they saw
things children should not see.
Paul Lukas...dear Paul did an amazing job!!! Now I know many people are mad that he go the Oscar and Bogie didn't but hey they both did amazing jobs so I think it could have gone either way. But Lukas' performance was so amazing that by the end of the movie I was reduced to tears. I loved this movie so much and recommend it to anyone!! :-D
Many of the criticisms on this thread seem to pick a comparison of this
film with "The Mortal Storm" or "Casablanca". Everyone is entitled to
compare films they choose, but the similarities of "The Mortal Storm"
and "Watch On The Rhine" are clearly the problems of refugees
threatened by the Nazi juggernaut, while the main comparative point
brought out with "Casablanca" is the seeming unjust treatment of
Humphrey Bogart in 1943 by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and
Science, because they chose Paul Lukas instead for the Best Actor
Oscar. It does not strike me as totally wrong. Lukas had a good career
in film (both here and in England - he is the villain in "The Lady
Vanishes"), and this performance was his best one. Bogart had more
great performances in him than Rick Blaine (for instance, he was
ignored for Sam Spade in "The Maltese Falcon" and Roy Earle in "High
Sierra" two years earlier, both of which were first rate performances,
and he would not get an Oscar for his greatest performances as Fred C.
Dobbs in "The Treasure Of Sierra Madres", the writer/murder suspect in
"In A Lonely Place", and Captain Philip Francis Queeg in "The Caine
Mutiny" afterward - he got it for Charley in "The African Queen"). I
think that Bogie should have got it for the role of Dobbs, but it did
not happen. But Lukas was lucky - he got it on the defining performance
of his lesser career. Few can claim that.
To me the film to look at with "Watch On The Rhine" is based on another play/script by Hellman, "The Searching Wind". They both look at America's spirit of isolationism in the 1920s and 1930s. "The Searching Wind" is really looking at the whole inter-war period, while "Watch On The Rhine", set in the years just proceeding our entry into World War II, deals with a few weeks of time. Therefore it is better constructed as a play, and more meaningful for it's impact.
The film has many good performances, led by Lukas as the exhausted but determined anti-Nazi fighter/courier, Davis as his loyal wife (wisely keeping her character as low keyed as possible due to Lukas being the center of the play's activities), Coulouris as the selfish, conniving, but ultimately foolish and ineffective Teck, Lucille Watson as the mother of Davis and Geraldine Fitzgerald (as Coulouris' wiser and sadder and fed up wife), and Kurt Katch, who delivers a devastating critique (as the local embassy's Gestapo chief) about Coulouris and others who would deal with the Nazis. It has dialog with bite in it. And what it says is quite true. It also has moments of near poetry. Witness the scene, towards the end, when Coulouris is left alone with Lukas and Davis, and says, "The New World has left the scene to the Old World". Hellman could write very well at times.
Given the strength of the film script and performances I would rate this film highly among World War II films.
I saw Watch on the Rhine when I was in my twenties and fell in love with the movie. It came on recently and from the vantage point of my fifties it was like watching the movie for the first time. This time, however, I found the movie interesting from the perspective of the unaware Americans who allow Nazi sympathizers not only to live in their home but to become so familiar as to almost be part of the family. It's entertainment value lies in the fact that in the early 1940's most Americans were unaware of the serious menace Hitler and his evil henchmen presented to the world. The ensuing 'final solution' would have been beyond the imagination of the every day Joe. This movie should be shown in our high schools as an object lesson in history and to correct those who are trying to revise history and deny the more sinister aspects of the Third Reich. Please if you get the opportunity watch this movie because the story dominates the actors, to the benefit of the viewer, and to the credit of those who made it.
An American woman, her European husband and children return to her
mother's home in "Watch on the Rhine," a 1943 film based on the play by
Lillian Hellman, and starring Paul Lukas (whom I believe is repeating
his stage role here), Bette Davis, Lucile Watson, George Coulouris,
Geraldine Fitzgerald, and Donald Woods. An anti-Fascist, a worker in
the underground movement, many times injured, and wanted by the Nazis,
Kurt Muller (Lukas) is in need of a long vacation on the estate of his
wealthy mother-in-law. But he finds out that there is truly no escape
as one of the houseguests (Coulouris) is suspicious as to his true
identity and more than willing to sell him out.
Great performances abound in this film, written very much to put forth Lillian Hellman's liberal point of view. It was certainly a powerful propaganda vehicle at the time it was released, as the evils of war and what was happening to people in other countries reach into safe American homes. The movie's big controversy today is that Paul Lukas won an Oscar over Humphrey Bogart in "Casablanca." Humphrey Bogart was a wonderful screen presence and a fabulous Rick, but Lukas is transcendent as Kurt. The monologue he has about the need to kill is gut-wrenching, just to mention one scene.
Though this isn't what one thinks of as a Bette Davis movie, she gives a masterful performance here as Kurt's loyal and loving wife, Sara. Her acting tugs at the heart, and the love scenes between Kurt and Sara are beautiful and tender.
The last half hour of the film had me in tears with the honesty of the emotions. Lillian Hellman is not everyone's cup of tea, but unlike "The Little Foxes," she has written some truly sympathetic, wonderful characters and a fine story given A casting and production values by Warner Brothers. Highly recommended.
Watch On The Rhine started as a Broadway play by Lillian Hellman who
wrote the film and saw it open on Broadway at a time when the Soviet
Union was still bound to Nazi Germany by that infamous non-aggression
pact signed in August of 1939. So much for the fact that Hellman was
merely echoing the Communist party line, the line didn't change until a
couple of months later. Lillian was actually months ahead of her time
with this work.
The play Watch On The Rhine ran from April 1941 to February 1942 for 378 performances and five players came over from Broadway to repeat their roles Frank Wilson as the butler, Eric Roberts as the youngest son, Lucile Watson as the family matriarch and most importantly villain George Coulouris and Paul Lukas.
Lukas pulled an award hat trick in 1943 winning an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and the New York Film Critics for Best Actor. Probably if the Tony Awards had been in existence then he would have won that as well. The Oscar is even more remarkable when you consider who he was up against, Humphrey Bogart for Casablanca, Gary Cooper in For Whom The Bell Tolls, Mickey Rooney in The Human Comedy, and Walter Pidgeon for Madame Curie. Every one of his competitors was a bigger box office movie name than he was. Lukas's nomination is usually the kind the Academy gives to round out a field.
Jack Warner knew that which is why Mady Christians did not repeat her Broadway part and the role of Lukas's wife was given to Bette Davis. Davis took the part not because this was an especially showy role for her, but because she believed in the picture and just wanted to be associated with it. It's the same reason she did The Man Who Came To Dinner, a much lighter play than this one.
Davis is the daughter of a late American Supreme Court Justice who married a German national back in the Weimar days. After many years of being vagabonds on the continent of Europe, Davis Lukas, and their three children come to America which has not yet entered the European War. They're made welcome by Lucile Watson who is thrilled naturally at finally meeting her grandchildren.
The fly in this ointment are some other house guests, a friend of Davis's from bygone days Geraldine Fitzgerald and her husband who is also from Europe, a Rumanian diplomat and aristocrat George Coulouris. Coulouris is a wastrel and a spendthrift and he smells an opportunity for double dealing when he suspects Lukas's anti-fascist background.
His suspicions are quite correct, it's the reason that the family has been the vagabonds they've become. Lukas fought in Spain on the Republican side and was wounded there. His health has not been the same since. His family loyally supports him in whatever decision he makes. Those decisions affect all the other members of the cast.
Adding quite a bit more to the Broadway play including some lovely fascist creatures was Dashiell Hammett who was Lillian Hellman's significant other. Coulouris playing cards at the German embassy was a Hammett creation with such loathsome types as Henry Daniell, Kurt Katch, Clyde Fillmore, Erwin Kalser and Rudolph Anders.
Coulouris is truly one of the most despicable characters ever brought to screen as the no account Runmanian count. He was a metaphor for his own country who embraced the Nazis with gusto and then equally repudiated them without losing a step after Stalingrad.
Lucile Watson was up for Best Supporting Actress in 1943, but lost to Katina Paxinou in For Whom The Bell Tolls. Dashiell Hammett was nominated for best adapted screenplay and the film itself lost for Best Picture to that other anti-fascist classic, Casablanca.
Though it's an item firmly planted in those specific times, Watch On The Rhine still packs a stern anti-fascist message that bears repeating infinitely.
It as absolutely incredible to me that anyone could make the comment that
this film is not preachy. It is not only oppressively preachy, but absurd,
stagebound, dramatically straight-jacketed, and painfully overwrought.
Watching it, one feels like an 8 year old child being punished by having
write "I will not become a fascist" on the blackboard 100
Now I understand that it was made during the height of WW2, and was intended to be a brave condemnation of Hitler and the terrible suffering he brought about, (which anyone would whole-heartedly applaud) and I'm sure it accurately captured the mood of the day. But it is presented in such an immature, over-obvious, sledgehammer way, it fails abysmally as a work of art.
The only good performances here are from Paul Lukas, who brings sincerity and intensity to his role as a quietly heroic anti-fascist; and Lucile Watson as the amusingly ill-mannered rich grandmother who slowly comes to realize how dangerous the world has become. Though their rootless upbringing has subjected them to all kinds of hardships, the children are ridiculously shown as robotically well-behaved little snips. They do not even remotely resemble real human beings. And Bette Davis, a great actress, here is so one dimensionally noble I cringed every time she was on screen. Her every word, her every gesture is meant to convey how SUPPORTIVE and UNDERSTANDING she is of the SACRIFICES her husband has to make and the great CAUSE he is fighting for, that she must've been wired to receive a painful electric shock if she dared allowed any hint of doubt or shading to surface in her portrayal.
So yes, this is a very IMPORTANT film, just not a very good one.
This is a movie with a noble heart and fine actors. Unfortunately, it
is also a movie with a stiff and leaden script, painfully unnatural and
not well directed. It is impossible not to feel for Paul Lukas'
character, just as it is impossible not to feel for Paul Heinried's
character in Casablanca, made the same year and dealing with similar
issues. But whereas the script in Casablanca, one of that movie's many
wonders, makes real people of its characters, the script in this movie
fails miserably in that respect, as in others.
If you have never seen this movie, watch it. But it could have been so much better with a better script.
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