But its a film that really has got more guts than Hollywood can afford, and New York critics appreciate the fact.
Their praise is unanimous, enthusiastic and sometimes interesting.
Frank Nugent, of the New York Times, says : " It is not only that the cobblestones are real, or that the men and women are real instead of extras . . . it has something to do with the Russian ability to train lens and lights upon a mass of men and women and reduce them to a single dramatic mond—panic, suspense, rage, fear or horror."
With a sentimental tune and some flags and some oratory they can produce in hundreds of millions of people that excitement which stabs
at the bowels and causes men to immolate themselves on fantastic altars of words. In the land of the man-god the living mass is willingly subjected to a single dramatic mood.
Is it surprising that in the same land a crowd of actors, trained to subdue their sentiment to fit other people's fictions, will also be subjected to a single dramatic mood? But there is more to this Russian film than a complete synchronisation of action with mood.
Not just Blank Fiends
Professor MathIock is a Jewish surgeon. The date is 1933 and the place Is Germany.
You recollect that Germany and Russia have on occasions expressed differences of opinion, and you conclude that the film may not be of the kind to quiet the Fiihrer after a hard day at the Hradschin.
You conclude rightly. As Variety puts it: The Anti-Nazi argument carries a devastating wallop." And it is devastating because it is well controlled. There is no hysteria.
The Nazis for the most part are human beings. Even when their conduct is fiendish they are not shown to us just as blank fiends. The S.S. man who has a Communist held fiat on a table and beaten with leather belts is shown ae diseased and neurotic, you notice the trembling of his hands, the slobbering of his mouth, the glaze of his eyes.
He Remembers the Belt
One of the boys who takes part in the flogging Is a dull, but rather cheerful lout. He hesitates as he unbuckles the belt of his smart black jacket. He begins to sense his degradation. But he draws in his breath and raises his arm.
We see him again later in the film, for a brief sequence. He is on his bed, drunk, mumbling to himself. The girl who has refused so many times to go dancing with him comes upon him and is full of sympathy. She is a Communist and she wants information of her lever, who has disappeared.
She asks the boy to go dancing. He rouses himself in incredulous excitement, brushes his uniform, surveys himself proudly and is ready to go. But there is something else.
" Here's your belt," says the girl.
" Of course, my belt " ; he takes it and remembers again and he cannot go.
The episode like the whole film is without one unnecessary movement or word. The camera never obtrudes Itself, yet one can smell the state beer and cigar smoke clinging to the flowerpatterned wallpaper; the frowsiness of the tumbled bed.
In another scene one is in the street of a German city, A lot of people are gathering in the street. They are German people, inquisitive, asking questions, craning necks, something's going on.
What is it? What is it? The answer becomes dreadfully urgent as one pushes through the crowd. Someone else is pushing too, indeed a whole lot of young men in brown uniforms and jack boots are pushing, frying to clear a way. There is a photographer, one can see his camera waving above the heads of the people. He is shouting to them to get out of the way. At last the street is cleared a little and one can see—and then, like most of the other people there, one doesn't want to see; for there is Professor Marnlock, whom everyone knows, standing isolated in his white operating coat among a lot of young men in uniform. The operating coat is torn and across its front is scrawled in huge letters: JUDE.
The shock that this sight produces after the skilful meandering of the camera is nauseating, it is an ordeal to continue looking at the screen.
Anti-Nazi News Sheet
But the film is less concerned with the Nazi persecution of Jews than with the underground Communist movement—which many in the world outside Germany wishfully trust is still In existence.
Enormous quantities of ingenuity and courage are spent in the making and distribution of an anti-Nazi news sheet. The film makes the very best of the excitement.
There is much chasing of oppressed by oppressors, and there are many movements reminiscent of those horrid dreams in which one is running from some unknown horror; running and running, without being able to make any progress. The oppressed have to laboriously open windows, attempt to climb wails. fall, and climb again, carefully unlock doors, or try to burst open locks that will not be bursted– in fact do all the things that the pursued usually have to do when their pursuers are for were half a foot of film back) within touching distance But it is invigorating stuff. The Western brought up to date and given a social conscience.
The Russian Roof Chase
suppnse one day I shall see a Russian film in which there is no chase across roofs. If ever I do I shall feel a sentimental disappointment, for the roof chase is as much part of the Soviet film as the hero-socks-heroine act is a part of the Hollywood "crazy " comedy. I would not. however, have any sort of disappointment at missing any part of the Hollywood crazy.
There is rather to much musical background to Professor Mamlock. Only here and there does the music add to the dramatic excitement.
Drums and Cymbals
In an early scene a young brownshirt is regarding himself proudly in a mirror. Another young man, not a brownsedrt, enters the room and asks when is the brownshirt going to the ball. The brownehirt rushes at the jeerer, who runs to the other aide of the table. They stand crouching above the table, jerking a little to the left or right. They do not say anything, but the music, of drums and cymbals. beats louder and louder and more menacing. It tells us that the Nazis are sweeping to power.
It is not much use mentioning the actors. They are splendidly sincere and subtle. But their names are too long.