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In Nazi Germany in 1936 seven men escape from a concentration camp. The camp commander puts up seven crosses and, as the Gestapo returns each escapee he is put to death on a cross. The seventh cross is still empty as George Heisler seeks freedom in Holland. Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
The film is set in 1936 but shows the Concentration Camp being run by the 'Storm troopers' (Sturmabteilung). The SA virtually ceased to exist following the 'night of the Long Knives'(Nacht der langen Messer), which occurred between June 30 and July 2, 1934. The SA did linger on after this but it was weakened and almost pointless, leaving the Schutzstaffel (SS) to take over most of its duties, including camp administration, etc. See more »
I came because I had something to tell you.
We haven't seen you for some time. Sit down.
No, thank you. I'll just tell you, and then I'll go. A man came to see me this morning. I had never seen him before, but what he told me may be something in which you are interested. He said he came with a message from a mutual friend. He didn't name the mutual friend, but I think he was speaking of George Heisler. You all know that Heisler escaped from Westhofen and is hiding somewhere in the city. He ...
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A truly outstanding film that has not received the distinction that it deserves, despite a first-rate cast and compelling, as well as unique for the time, subject matter.
Spencer Tracy plays George Heisler, one of seven prisoners escaping from a German concentration camp in 1936. The film traces his attempt to establish contact with the German resistance movement, and along the way he changes slowly from a hardened cynic, and regains his faith in mankind.
This is not a bang-bang action movie. The lack of overt violence is what makes gives the film a searing authenticity. This is based on a novel by Anna Seghers, whose husband was indeed imprisoned in a concentration camp. True, people knowledgeable about the era will find many technical errors. For one thing, all of the actors, including especially Tracy and Ray Collins, are simply too overfed to be believable concentration camp inmates. Also the film shows the SA running the camp, when I do believe the SS was running the camps by '36. I was not especially happy with the handling of the single Jewish character, who is a token character and not portrayed very favorably.
But this was 1944, not 1994, and this was the first film from Hollywood to depict concentration camps. Also I can't think of very many films that have more successfully captured the terror and despair of Nazi Germany, and also more clearly impart a moral message. In that regard it is very faithful to the book.
The performances by all, even the bit characters, are superlative. This was one of Spencer Tracy's finest roles, and supposedly the melancholy of his performance was to a large extent influenced by word that a young friend, who he knew from Boy's Town, had died in combat.
Cronyn and Tandy play Liesl and Paul Roeder, who try to help George Heisler. What makes this a very fine drama is how even secondary and bit characters are shown to change and evolve. Watch for Helene Weigel, wife of Bertold Brecht, playing an old female janitor watching Roeder being taken away in a car. Weigel was the inspiration for Brecht's Mother Courage.
Seghers was a Communist, as are the major characters of the book, and the politics of the author simmers below the surface without being explicitly expressed. Look closely at the characters playing Nazis and concentration camp guards, and generally most of the characters with accents. The majority are refugees from Nazi Germany, adding great authenticity to their performances.
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