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Varian's War: The Forgotten Hero (TV) More at IMDbPro »Varian's War (original title)

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13 out of 16 people found the following review useful:

Outstanding film

Author: ItsMeWil (
21 April 2001

I saw this film last night at its advanced screening at the WorldFest Film Festival in Houston. This Canadian production is absolutely marvelous. A feel-good movie about the Holocaust is hard to come by, but this not only fits that description, it refrains from becoming a sappy and trite "let's save the world" flick. Instead, it treats its subject matter with dignity and reveals itself as a poignant film that will cause you to question your own character and faith in humanity. Not only is the story well put together (and based on a true story, at that!), but the acting is terrific, with William Hurt and Julia Ormond delivering outstanding performances. You won't miss the character of Bella Chagall, who steals every scene she's in. Even the minor characters appear to be three-dimensional rather than simple window dressing. The costuming was absolutely sensational; I don't think I've really ever bothered to look at costuming and lighting before but in this case, it's so perfect you can't help but notice. You must see this film!

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10 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

A film about "America's Schindler" but no Schindler's List.

Author: George Parker from Orange County, CA USA
23 April 2001

"Varian's War" tells of Varian Fry, an American citizen who sets about to liberate the great minds of Europe in the years prior to American involvement in WWII. An entertaining historical drama built for Showtime, this well made but somewhat scripted and theatrical film illuminates the mechanics of Fry's mission but is more stilted than engaging, more mechanical than compelling, and possibly bit off a piece of history bigger than what it could chew. Worth watching more for historical than dramatic value.

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9 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

Outstanding drama.

Author: hanksank
3 July 2001

This man is something of a Schindler, if you will, but he focused mainly on saving artists. Beautifully played by William Hurt, with great supporting actors all around him, this film was obviously made on the cheap, but that doesn't cheapen the content which is worthy. A good family film. I recommend it.

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9 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

Very important story

Author: Catherine Todd ( from Oxford, North Carolina, USA
10 February 2002

"Varian's War" is a very important film and I, for one, am glad to see films of this kind being made. Thanks to Barbara Streisand for backing it, and to the writer and director and composer for the beautiful music, to William Hurt and Julia Ormond and all the other fine actors for showing us all, that ONE PERSON CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE. Look what this one man has done, all by himself, creating a group and raising money and saving the lives of some of the greatest thinkers, artists, musicians and others who have moved our cultures and civilization forward, and saved our souls.

Thanks to everyone, as this film has given me much to think about and much to strive for. I hope it becomes available for purchase as I would like my students and everyone I know to see it, at least one time, and consider what course of action we might all take - if only for once in our lives - that might make the tiniest bit of "difference" as Varian has done. Yours sincerely, Catherine Todd

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7 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

American credited with helping 2000 Jews escape Nazi France in 1940.

Author: TxMike from Houston, Tx, USA, Earth
27 February 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

William Hurt does a masterful job as Varian Fry, who in Europe in 1939 witnessed terrible treatment of Jews, just because they were Jews. Back home in the USA, he obtained financial donations and support from Mrs. Roosevelt, the president's wife, and alone headed in 1940 to Marseilles, France with a list of about 8 or 10 Jewish "artists" that he wanted to save. The area was heavily occupied by German Nazis, and the French pretty much conceded that Germany was going to win the war. This movie is the story of Varian Fry's efforts to extract Jews from France, even though it had been made illegal to do so, and anyone caught attempting to circumvent the law would likely be executed. Excellent movie, never seems long at two hours.

SPOILERS FOLLOW. Varian goes to France with no real plan other than to find the people and work things out as he needed. He was sent help in the person of Miriam Davenport (Julia Ormond), and recruited others sympathetic to his mission, a Jew that he named "Beamish" (Matt Craven) and a counterfeit expert played by Alan Arkin. They play a sort of cat and mouse game with the French and German police, they can't let them know their real purpose, and with really good counterfeit documents manage to get a group of Jews into Spain. It was set up by a train trip, then they hiked through the mountain forest to arrive at the checkpoint undetected. After that the movie ended, but the efforts were repeated successfully many times during 1940 and 1941, saving about 2000 all together. Many musicians, authors, painters, sculptors.

The DVD has a number of interesting extras, including some photos of the real Varian Fry.

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4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Saving civilization's soul

Author: Matthew Ignoffo ( from Eatontown, NJ, USA
23 April 2001

In the midst of the Nazi madness when goons hunted down artists, thinkers, and other "misfits" or "queer ducks," Varian Fry was a man who decided to prevent the intellectual and artistic soul of civilization from going into a new dark age. He rescued people who would have otherwise been sacrificed to neutrality as well as to madness.

This is an excellent TV-film that is a memorial to the people who fought against fascism before the armies ever mobilized. The mind is mightier than the explosive and the bullet.

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6 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

The true story of Hiram Bingham IV who rescued Marc Chagall from Vichy France.

Author: Peter22060 from United States
17 November 2002

I have awarded this film a ten, because a few months ago, the

Secretary of State, Colin Powell, gave a posthumous award for "constructive dissent" to Hiram (or Harry) Bingham, IV

recognizing that he issued 2500 visas against the wishes of the

State Department and President Roosevelt. The people he saved

included the artists Marc Chagall and Max Ernst and the family of

the writer Thomas Mann.

Bingham's father (on whom the fictional character Indiana Jones

was based) was the archeologist who unearthed the Inca city of

Machu Picchu, Peru in 1911.

He has now been honored by many groups and organizations

including the United Nations and the State of Israel.

The TV film Wallenberg: A Hero's Story (1985) is a great

companion piece. Bingham passed away in 1988 practically

penniless, and the circumstances of Wallenberg's death remain a


It is truly a tragedy that the great principled human beings are

recognized after their passing. But the film industry does do the

world a service when it brings important history to the attention of

those who would ever have known.

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8 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

Oddly undramatic telling of extraordinary story

Author: trpdean from New York, New York
3 March 2004

The movie plods along - victim of a poor screenplay that: i) distorts terribly the real facts, ii) fails to convey the excitement and danger of the undertaking, iii) fails to address the underlying moral question of seeking to save only those who've made their names in the arts, and iv) fails to sufficiently acquaint the audience with the merits of those who escape. The best thing about the movie (as true in so many movies) is Alan Arkin's performance in a small role - he's always superb.

I've no problem with the alteration of some facts in order to make a more compelling story. Thus, the fact that Chagall and his wife did not make the trip with Werfel and Heinrich Mann but went at a different time, or that there were actually up to a dozen people working with the committee (many of them European), or that Fry hardly ever personally escorted any of the people into Spain, I see as normal poetic license.

However, to say that the Miriam Davenport character is a composite - but then to steal the name of a real person who died during the production in order to present a terribly ugly and false portrait of her, is not forgivable. From what I've read (including her journal), the real Davenport was a very young, sweet idealistic person whose fiance was trapped in Yugoslavia, not the coarse, promiscuous and tough creature given this name in the movie - (and given a fictitious physical ailment).

And to make Fry a bizarre, hesitant, effete man who affects a dandy's guise - is absurd. Again, from what I've read, the real Fry was smart, straightforward, strict, and decisive. (And he didn't die penniless, but was teaching classics at a New England prep school).

No one in the movie addresses the central moral question - why should the lives of those in the arts be more precious? The vast majority of those saved, had done their best work long before (Arendt is the obvious exception) - they weren't being saved for their future contributions so much as their past. Would it not be at least arguable that those saved should be those who were most involved in charitable works, had the greatest "heart"? Or that those saved should be those whose past indicated the most practicable help to the U.S. should it get into the war? Or that those saved should be those who had the closest family relation to American citizens? The movie's failure to address these questions - and blithe assumption that those in the arts are simply superior to the rest of us, so their very lives are more worthy of preservation - is deeply annoying.

Moreover, the movie fails to convey any sense of the value of the particular people saved. We need to know why these particular people are so important to Fry and others. Why could they not give the viewer a sense of the writing of Heinrich Mann, Feuchtwanger or Werfel? Why could they not show a single canvas of the work of Duchamps, Ernst or Chagall? Why could they not show some of the sculpture of Lipschutz? The political musings of Arendt? We need to know why these people are so critical.

This movie is dull. Those who like it on this board seem really to be responding to the idea of a movie about Fry's work - or to be (quite justly) praising what he and others in the committee did. Since the central drama of the personalities involved is so falsely presented, it's far far better to simply read about them.

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3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Great movie with outstanding acting

Author: guyb from Portland, Oregon
28 September 2001

Varian was not known to me before this movie and I was disappointed that the movie didn't bring out more about him and his motivations. However, both Hurt and Ormond gave fabulous performances. He had that strange "Roosevelt" gait that you see so much in the 40's and was very understated. This had the look of pretty standard Made-for-TV fare. Usually Showtime kicks it up a notch, but not this time.

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3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Gripping story, well told...

Author: Tom Brucia ( from Houston, Texas, USA
21 April 2001

This movie successfully takes one back to the dark days after the fall of France. Jews have escaped to Vichy (unoccupied, southern) France, where they are trapped as the puppet French government and Nazi forces prepare for deportations to concentration camps. (The construction of death camps still lay in the future....). Varian Fry is an American of conscience who goes to France in the days when the U.S. was still a neutral power to see if he can assist prominent Jewish intellectuals to get out and to the United States. This documentary tells the story of his actions, and the first group out. It is low-key, subtle, but gripping in a very human way.... It truly takes one back into a time when good and evil not only coexisted, but shook hands, exchanged pleasantries, dined together, and smiled across the abyss at each other's visage.... Put this on your 'must see' list -- and take the kids, too!

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