The Mortal Storm (1940)

The_Mortal_Storm-_1940-_Poster.pngOur introduction to The Mortal Storm feels rather flat. Bright and bland in more ways than one as we become accustomed to our main storyline.  Professor Viktor Roth (Frank Morgan) is held in high regard all throughout the community as a prominent lecturer at the local university and beloved by his colleagues and family. The year is 1933 and the Bavarian Alps are still a merry and gay place to live. That’s our understanding early on as the Professor celebrates his 60th birthday with much fanfare and receives a commemorative memento from his class.

In some ways, Frank Borzage’s picture shares a striking resemblance to All Quiet on the Western Front another film that makes its German roots blatantly obvious and yet it wears its incongruities like the ubiquitous use of the English language with ease. And as all the characters accept it, we do too as we begin to sink into the story. But crucial to this story is that they are not as accepting of other things. It feels a little like paradise. Life is good and people are happy. But we expect that at some point the time bomb will go off and it does. Adolf Hitler is elected Chancellor and just like that people begin to change. It’s a collective revolution — a youth movement of sorts.

Pastor, pacifist, and thinker Dietrich Bonhoeffer tore apart the Fuhrer concept straight away in a talk he gave in 1933, long before many of the later horrors during the Nazi reign of terror. But much as this film portrays, such an ideology only leads to destruction — a necessity to harm your brother. Bonhoeffer stated the following which feels surprisingly pertinent to this narrative:

“This Leader, deriving from the concentrated will of the people, now appears as longingly awaited by the people, the one who is to fulfill their capabilities and their potentialities. Thus the originally matter-of-fact idea of political authority has become the political, messianic concept of the Leader as we know it today. Into it there also streams all the religious thought of its adherents. Where the spirit of the people is a divine, metaphysical factor, the Leader who embodies this spirit has religious functions, and is the proper sense the messiah. With his appearance the fulfillment of the last hope has dawned. With the kingdom which he must bring with him the eternal kingdom has already drawn near…

 “If he understands his function in any other way than as it is rooted in fact, if he does not continually tell his followers quite clearly of the limited nature of his task and of their own responsibility, if he allows himself to surrender to the wishes of his followers, who would always make him their idol—then the image of the Leader will pass over into the image of the mis-leader, and he will be acting in a criminal way not only towards those he leads, but also towards himself…”

And so it happens in this film. We see it around the professor’s dinner table first. Formally, a forum for high-minded debate, it’s quickly become a battleground of ideology. Roth’s step-sons and most notably his daughter’s fiancee Fritz Marberg (Robert Young) have all been caught up in the rhetoric and promises of Herr Hitler. All other forms of thought and free thinking have been discarded, these new ideals burrowing into their minds, dictating their actions, and ultimately poisoning their lives and the lives of all those around them. I never thought it was possible to despise Robert Young but when his mind is polluted by an ideology as rancorous as Nazism it’s far from difficult.

We don’t see Jimmy Stewart until quite a ways into the film and he disappears from sight for some time following an escape to Austria from the Nazi clutches, but he’s still our hero imbued with that same iconic everymanness. He is the man to continue the open-minded, compassionate forms of thinking that Professor Roth exemplifies and subsequently get torn asunder.

Margaret Sullivan and Stewart yet again make a compelling pair following Lubitsch’s Shop Around the Corner. She is the good little German girl Freya who actually proves to have a backbone and he is the humble farm boy who stands by his ideals like Stewart always did. They are caught up in a love story amidst a world that seemingly lacks any shred of romantic passion.

Undoubtedly the Production Codes forbade from mentioning Jews in the story — the non-Aryans like Professor Roth, but that makes this film even more haunting, the fact that the people without a voice are not even acknowledged. They are silenced and remain silent.

With its overt portrayal of the Nazis as menacing thugs and brainwashed ideology machines, The Mortal Storm is startling. For years and years most all of us have read, heard, and seen a great deal on the Nazis that we have unknowingly compiled but this film brings many of those common factors to the fore. It’s obvious that people saw them then. They knew them then. They weren’t blind. Thus, it makes us beg the question what were other Europeans and Americans actually thinking? Because although The Mortal Storm might be the exception rather than the norm, there had to be a general consciousness about the Nazis.

Because the film hardly sugarcoats anything nor does it mince words. It’s surprisingly blunt and utterly bleak in its portrayal even with a bit of a bittersweet Hollywood ending. What’s left is a lingering impact that’s terribly affecting. Only at that point do we realize the total transformation the film world has gone through. Those opening moments of The Mortal Storm are so vital as it is only in the waning interludes where we truly comprehend how far things have fallen into hell.

It’s a stunning piece of work and this is not simply the ethereal love story I was expecting. It is a thoroughly gripping indictment of the Nazi menace and far more candid than I would have ever imagined. The Mortal Storm suggests perhaps most audaciously that there were people who waded against the pervasive current of the time. They let their lives be dictated by good will, decency, and personal relationships rather than any churning force of a single political ideology.

The final quotation pulled from the moving work of Minnie Louise Haskins “God Knows” ends like so:

“I said to a man who stood at the gate, give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown. And he replied, go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than a light and safer than a known way.”

4.5/5 Stars

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

raidersof1I’m not one to rewatch movies too often — it’s simply not in my nature and I am still relatively young in my film affinity. That means there are still so many great titles to see and discover. But Raiders is one of the special films that I would gladly make room for every year at a couple times. Most of it has probably been said before, but to put it simply Spielberg’s collaboration with George Lucas is one of the greatest adventures put to film pure and simple. It takes inspiration from old action serials and there is something inherently classic about Indiana Jones and the world he inhabits. It is 1936, after all, and the perfect evil force in the Nazis is on the rise.

Raiders begins with an opening gambit that could standalone by itself with its introduction of Indy (Harrison Ford) as he tries to recover an ancient artifact. He dodges traps and outruns a boulder only to be thwarted by his old nemesis Belloq (Paul Freeman). That’s followed by one of the great cinematic panoramas as he makes a mad dance to his getaway plane where Jacques and his friendly pet snake Reggie are waiting. We don’t need much explanation because it just works.

raiderof2From then on we get a little more about Dr. Jones’s background as a professor in archaeology who is enlisted by two government men to impede the Nazis. Their goal is to recover the Ark of the Covenant because its supposed power would make their military might unstoppable. But most of us undoubtedly know that. Indy ends up tracking down the daughter of an old mentor who also happens to be his former flame, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen). They’ve got something still burning because although it is extremely volatile, you can see they still secretly care for each other. After they are paid a visit by the Nazis, Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) acts as their host and loyal guide in Cairo. That doesn’t stop Marion from getting kidnapped or Indy almost getting killed more than once. One of these times involved an iconic duel between a sword and a revolver (certainly not a fair fight).

raidersof3In fact, Raiders is made up of many of these memorable sequences that add up to something greater than their parts. It’s a full story surely, but it is built up from these varying vignettes. Indy gets thrown into a pit of snakes with Marion by his side. He nearly gets his head taken off by a chopper blade (you should have seen the other guy), and finally, he begins a high-speed chase for the ark on the back of a noble white steed. It gives him time to pull a few stunts on a truck as he whittles down the opposition single-handedly. The audience even gets an obligatory Wilhelm Scream once or twice.

What it all comes down to is tracking the Nazis to their island lair where they hope to test the great powers of the Ark. I’m not sure how biblical it all is, but it seems more like a Pandora’s box because far more trouble than good comes out of it when opened. But in his infinite wisdom Indy and Marion don’t do anything except keep their eyes shut. They’re tied up after all. And that’s how the raiders were stopped and Indy completed his treasure hunt. The Ark is in the hands of the government and they file it away with numerous other very important and highly secret artifacts. The perfect ending to a film that has humor, melodrama, supernatural power, and a good old-fashioned tale of good vs. evil.

It’s crazy to think that Tom Sellick was almost Indy if it were not for his commitment to  Magnum P.I. Because Harrison Ford, despite his many iconic roles, will forever be Indiana Jones, thanks to that hat, that whip, and that revolver. He’s an awesome adventurer-professor type. You don’t see that every day.

5/5 Stars

The Sound of Music (1965)

88ab0-sound_of_musicI would like to dedicate this post to my sister since this is her favorite movie !
Starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, this musical follows a light-hearted nun who becomes the governess for the seven children of a widowed Austrian naval captain. When she first meets the children they are hostile towards her but they quickly become fond of Maria. However, when the captain gets wind of their adventures he is angry. Initially Maria is sent away but then the captain has a change of heart. After an evening full of fun, Maria is sent off this time by a jealous baroness. She returns later on the urging of a nun and Von Trapp then realizes his true love for Maria. However, everything is not well as the Von Trapps get ready for the Salzburg Music Festival since the Nazis are on the rise. With a little kindly help they are able to make their getaway in the end. I have to say that this is not one of my favorite films but the soundtrack is one of the most memorable of all time and Andrew’s voice is truly beautiful.

                                                               4.5/5 Stars