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MR. EMMANUEL is the one example of a starring part for Sir Felix
Aylmer. One of that group of delightful character actors who became so
well known to American audiences from Britain in the 1930s - 1960s,
they are best recalled for people like Alec Guiness, Peter Sellers,
Peter Ustinov (all of whom achieved real stardom), but included Robert
Morley, Margaret Rutherford, Dennis Price, Terry-Thomas, Bernard
Cribbins, Eric Sykes, Miles Malleson, Ernest Theisinger, Cecil Parker,
Joan Greenwood, and Aylmer. There faces constantly popped up with
regularity in comedy or dramas from Britain.
Aylmer, with his precise, thin voice, sounded like a pedagogue (and in real life did some studies that he published - like his book "The Drood Murder Mystery"). He actually did play teachers. In "Edward My Son" he is the house master who is blackmailed by Spencer Tracy into forgetting about expelling Tracy's selfish, trouble making son. But he could play doctors ("The Doctor's Dilemma", "The Citadel"), lawyers or Judges ("The Chalk Garden"), or other professionals. All of these film roles were supporting parts. He gave his all to his roles - like in "Separate Tables", when he is at first fairly neutral to Gladys Cooper's efforts to drive David Niven out of the residence hotel they reside in, but slowly gets fed up with her highhandedness and leads the switch of the other residence against Cooper's wishes.
But here he is the title character - sent to get in touch with the daughter of an old friend who has not left her native Germany. But Aylmer is a Jewish gentleman, and one who barely understands what is going on in Nazi Germany. He heads there, aware that there is some degree of anti-Semitism (when hasn't there been that), but not realizing it's virulence. Gradually he is made aware of it, due to his sloppy handling of his mission, and also that, although he is a naturalized English citizen the German regime is more than willing to overlook that point.
He ends up mistreated, humiliated, and imprisoned in a 1930 style concentration camp (which shows that they were known before the creation of "the final solution). Aylmer's key scene in all this is when one of the few local Jews who was willing to advise him, is taken out of a nearby cell, his face showing a degree of fear and horror that is unimaginable. Aylmer, looking through the bars of his cell door, and dozen of other prisoners yell defiance at the butchers who will shortly kill this poor man.
One thing about the story that was particularly interesting is the character of Elsie Silver. Elsie is Jewish, but never emphasized that part of her history. In fact, when Emmanuel tries to contact her she is annoyed that he's raking up her past. And with reason - her boy friend is a high ranking young official in the S.S. It is rarely mentioned, due the incredible story of torture and evil practiced on the bulk of Germany and Europe's Jews by the Nazis and their allies, that there were "quislings" among the Jews as among other groups. Maybe "quislings" is too harsh, but protected exceptions is not too harsh.
The most notable example of Jews who were not bothered were in France and Italy. Gertrude Stein, who was Jewish and American, was such an important figure in the world of French cultural circles she was let alone. So was Bernard Berenson the Renaissance art expert (whom Mussolini's regime did not bother). On the other hand, the Jewish French Historian Marc Bloch joined the underground, was captured, and tortured to death. The German, Stephan Zweig, fled to Latin America, and committed suicide because of the hostility and indifference he met abroad.
Therefore the picture of Elsie's special relationship to the regime is unique for 1944 in any movie. I doubt if it would have occurred in an American film of the period (although in "The Pied Piper", Monte Wooley does find that Nazi officer Otto Preminger wants him to get his half-Jewish niece out of the continent to England - Wooley does do it). But an Elsie Silver was too hard to swallow, as rumors of massive slaughter began to come through. By 1945 it would have been next to impossible to discuss it.
For an early, and good view of the state of horror in Nazi Germany for the Jews, and for the performances of Aylmer and Greta Gynt, I give the film a 10.
This film was shown at the NFT last night as part of a double bill featuring Felix Aylmer.This film is a rarity in that it attempts to show what life was like in pare war Germany.No similar film was made in the 30s due mainly to the censors refusal to approve any film with this proposed subject.Indeed the only other similar film "Pastor Hall" could not be made till the war had started. I would add that it is noticeable that the other 2 reviews come from viewings abroad.I have never seen this film before last night.I do not believe that it has ever been shown on TV and it certainly has not as far as i can remember been shown previously at the NFT. It is an intensely thought provoking film which had the audience not moving whilst the end credits were rolling.The irony of this film was that as bad as they showed the situation to be in Nazi Germany,the actuality was far worse.So that even the thuggish glee of the Gestapo in this film was far outdone by Himmler and his henchmen.If you ever get the chance to see this film make sure sure you don't miss it.
The big mystery about this movie is its release date of 1944. The movie
based on Louis Golding's popular novel `Magnolia Street' from the early
1930s, which dramatized the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany before the
war. So why turn the novel into a movie in 1944 near the end of the war,
when the Holocaust had already happened and the persecution during the
had been massively overtaken by later events? True, even in 1944 the
western public may not have been aware of the full horrors of the
, but they were certainly aware that things had deteriorated far beyond
problems of a decade earlier. One can only assume that this movie might
have been sitting in storage for a good many years before anyone had the
courage to release it, and by then it had become so outdated as to be
Of course one can't question it's good intentions, but it's certainly no masterpiece. The main character is a childishly naive old man who blunders from one error of judgment to another like a highly principled Mr Magoo, recklessly putting himself and others in the path of danger.
Perhaps it did some good in its day, helping to prepare the public for the vastly greater horrors about to be revealed. But if it's holocaust history that you want, you might as well face the harsh reality which is now readily available in books or museums, instead of getting sentimental over this misty-eyed fantasy.
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