A silent nine-year-old Czech boy, a survivor of Auschwitz, flees a refugee center in postwar Germany and is found by an American G.I. At the same time, the boy's mother, the sole surviving member of his family, searches refugee centers for her son. Time, distance, and the massive numbers of refugee children are factors hampering the reunion of mother and son.Written by
Martin H. Booda <email@example.com>
The only Oscar nominated performance by Montgomery Clift in a non-Best Picture nominated film. See more »
The army jeep that Steve (Montgomery Clift) is in suddenly changes to a different jeep when he brings Karel back to the Army house. Notice the appearance of large decal lettering in the passenger side window, in addition to other minor differences. See more »
[holds up picture of sexily-posed woman]
What'd he tell you for that?
[to Steve, who's standing nearby]
Ohhhh, brother! You'd better stick to building bridges!
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Moving, hard-hitting post-war drama based on the awful truth
The Search (1948)
This is a critical film in director Fred Zinnemann's career. After years of doing shorts and B features, and after WWII had ravaged the world, he turned to a subject that must have ripped him up every day he was shooting. The story of orphaned kids, most of the Jewish, in the rubble of post-War Germany.
You see, both his parents were killed by the Nazis in the war. And here he was, a man with roots in documentary film in the 1930s, making real one of the remaining problems recovering from Nazi mess, these displaced children. The black and white filming is gritty and polished at the same time, and much of it is shot on location in the real ruins of Germany in the American sector (in Nuremberg). For that alone it's worth seeing.
By the way, the interior work was done in a Swiss garage—the crew for the whole film consisted of a total of ten Swiss technicians and a truck. Though the movie was an American release, the main producer was Swiss, too. All of these are reasons why it feels different than what Hollywood might have attempted on studios lots, and probably failed at least in authenticity.
Throw in that Montgomery Clift is starring in the lead role and you have another reason to watch. He's really wonderful, already feeling like the mature, charming, disarming young man he is famous for on screen. Be warned however—he doesn't show up until nearly halfway through. The first half of the movie is touching but makes for disappointing drama, forming a quasi-documentary overview of the horrid situation but with a voice-over that means well but makes it almost sentimental instead of tragic. Be sure to stick it out until the real plot kicks in with Clift sitting in a Jeep.
There are other actors here—the mother looking for her child is an opera singer in real life and is more pathetic than persuasive, and the chief nurse, played by Aline MacMahon, is terrific. Still, the movie, and the screen time in the second half, is Clift's, thankfully, and the boy's. This child was discovered while scouting for the movie, apparently, and is a Czech kid names Ivan Jandl. Amazingly, he knew no English when the movie started, and was coached by Clift as they went, very much like happens in the movie. This obviously makes it more convincing top to bottom.
And makes you love Clift even more. He took the role quite seriously, studying (according to a TCM article worth googling) American soldier engineers by living with them, especially trying to get the way they walked. Fascinating details for a movie that depends on its verisimilitude above all.
If there is an inevitable arc to the events, you'll have to live with it. And if some of the acting is average, and some of the plot requiring patience, you'll have to live with that, too. It's not a gem taken whole. But the best of it is remarkable. An absolute must-watch if you like this period, the director, or even this kind of shooting, which has an echo of "Rome Open City" and other European productions shot in the actual remains of Old Europe.
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