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The Cross of Lorraine (1943)
Entertaining Propaganda... may contain spoilers.
The POW movie is a genre that was at the height of it's popularity in the 1950/60's sometimes giving an amusing almost nostalgic gloss of the treatment of prisoners during WW2, therefore this movie (made in 1943) is an entertaining if somewhat historically dubious entry into the category.
The movie opens just before France falls to the Germans in 1940, with a group of French soldiers rounded up and placed in a camp ran by the most sadastic Nazi's Hollywood conjure up, amongst them one of the 1940's favourite villain's Peter Lorre. The movie is gritty, the Nazi's gleefully watching the men tear each other apart over bread, shooting a Priest for praying or brutally kicking chained up men in the face. Seeing Gene Kelly's battered face, (effective and shocking make-up)what patriotic, moral human wouldn't want to spit a huge, gob of saliva in a Nazi's face or cheer when the hero stabs a Nazi in the throat. In fact some of the scenes were so shocking when the film was first shown, audiences walked out as the gore was just too much. Yet the movie was never charged with exaggeration as it was based on "A Thousand Shall Fall" by Hans Habe, himself a refugee from the Nazis.
In reality, POW conditions of Western prisoners while not a holiday were tolerable, one character even shouts "this is not a concentration camp I have rights" but it is not in the interest of the producers to dwell on this or the Geneva Convention. The movie stirs patriotism from the minute La Marseillaise booms over the credits. Gene Kelly is effective, as a hot headed Frenchmen that refuses to bend to the rules. Hume Cronyn is suitably sleazy as a treacherous POW only wanting to serve his own interests while lead Aumont only serves as the moral voice of the story, his transgression from idealistic law student to a daring member of the Resistance not that realistic. Underused as always is Peter Lorre, who in the first few scenes is typically evil but latterly has a couple of the very few lighter moments as he smuggles contraband across the French border, making his character a little less two dimensional and it's a pity he wasn't used in more scenes.