Watch on the Rhine

At the Movies, London, 1943

(Dir. Herman Shumlin) (1943)

Nazis, ISIS, Port Adelaide Football Club…the forces of evil bring us together and so it proves here, in Warner Brothers’ film of Lillian Hellman’s play about a member of the resistance and his family, seeking refuge from the Nazis in his wife’s family dream house in Washington DC, some time before Pearl Harbour shook the American lethargy…

Bette Davis and Paul Lukas are given some very snappy lines, but they rise above them and give us performances that convince us of a couple driven to poverty and danger, for a cause.  Bette Davis is wonderful (some thought her role marginalised and consequently over the top – completely wrong) and Paul Lukas, a brilliant actor, gives an astounding performance, suggesting the drive, passion, steel, and the guilt, of the true, committed warrior against tyranny.  The guilt, that is, of a man who must do wicked things in a higher cause, who sacrifices not only himself, but his willing, loving wife, and children too.


“And I like a good-looking woman, I always have.”

Whilst obviously propaganda straight from Broadway and fed into the Warners’ mill, this is good propaganda, because it is human and, indeed, true. Lukas’ loving youngest son is described as “My biographer…and as accurate as most of them” but the build-up of his character is a great reminder that “fighter against fascism” once was a real job description, and one dark day, may be again, perforce.

'We speak ignorantly but fluently in German, French, Italian, Spanish...' '...and sometimes boastfully in English.'

‘We speak ignorantly but fluently in German, French, Italian, Spanish…’ ‘…and sometimes boastfully in English.’

And they get to ascend the Washington monument!  P was told (in the Land of the Free, circa 1995) this couldn’t be done…It was almost Old Europe vs the New World!  In the final analysis, this is a classic love story of a love that can shine under severe duress.  One hopes another tyrannical threat is not required for more films such as this.

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