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S. Sylvan Simon
In the opening scene Paul Lukas's character Martin Schulz are toasting to San Francisco as he is leaving soon, one can see they are standing in front of a picture that cuts off and does not go all the way to the top of the screen See more »
"Address Unknown" is a 1944 film starring Paul Lukas, which is based on a story of the same name by Kressman Taylor. It's directed by William Cameron Menzies, best known as an art director, and also stars Morris Carnovsky, Peter van Eyck, the later blacklisted Mady Christians, and K.T. Stevens.
The story concerns two German art dealers in San Francisco circa 1932, Martin (Lukas) and Max Eisenstein (Carnovsky). It falls to Martin to return to Germany with his family to buy and ship art work back to the U.S. gallery. With him and the family is also Griselle, Martin's son's (van Eyck) fiancée, who has acting aspirations and wants to work overseas.
Martin becomes seduced by the "new Germany" under Hitler and becomes friends with a baron (Carl Esmond) who encourages him to break ties with his Jewish partner, which he does. The baron also learns that Griselle, who uses the last name Stone, is Jewish. Griselle has a part in a play, and the Nazis have forbidden certain lines to be spoken from the Beatitudes. Griselle says them anyway, and, outed as a Jew by someone at the performance, she runs for her life. She makes her way to Martin's place, where she is turned away.
Martin starts to receive letters from Max that are written in obvious code, giving dimensions of Picassos and having certain numbers substituted for numbers previously sent. The baron warns him that sending and receiving codes is illegal. Martin denies that he is receiving coded letters, meanwhile begging Max to stop writing to him.
The film is very well done in a film noir style, and you can't go wrong visually with Menzies and with Rudy Mate on the camera. The shadows and camera angles are striking, particularly in the play scene and when Martin is alone in his house toward the end of the film. Well worth seeing for the art direction and cinematography alone.
In the actual story, Martin and Griselle have had an affair previously, and Griselle is actually Max's sister. The joke painting that Martin sends back to San Francisco that Max tries to hide from a customer is actually a Picasso - I'm not sure that was made clear in the film.
The action in this film, Martin's turning etc., take place seemingly very quickly and don't come off as believably as in the book, which is actually a series of letters. It has been republished, translated into many languages, and also turned into a play and adapted for radio; it was considered very important at the time it was published, so important that it was felt "too strong" to have been written by a woman, so Katherine Taylor used her maiden name instead to get Kressman Taylor.
The ending pf the film is unexpected. Very suspenseful and absorbing and amazing to look at - with a wonderful performance by Paul Lukas and the rest of the cast - Address Unknown is highly recommended.
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