Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB. Switzerland/USA, 1948. Praesens-Film. Screenplay by Richard Schweizer, additional dialogue by Paul Jarrico, with collaboration by David Wechsler. Cinematography by Emil Berna. Produced by Lazar Wechsler. Music by Robert Blum. Film Editing by Hermann Haller. Academy Awards 1948. Golden Globe Awards 1948.
Montgomery Clift deservedly became a star and former documentary filmmaker Fred Zinnemann a director to be reckoned with thanks to the combination of their talents on this richly moving drama. The war has ended and the Allies (including an outstanding Aline MacMahon) are still in Europe helping to get displaced people to a safe place and hopefully reunite them with whatever loved ones may have survived. A young boy who has survived the Nazi concentration camps (played with deeply affecting sincerity by Ivan Jandl) is being transported by the Red Cross when he and the other children mistake car noises for a gas attack and break out of the truck, many of them immediately recovered but Jandl set adrift to wander the destroyed landscape. He eventually encounters Clift as a plucky G.I. who takes him in, feeds and clothes him and comes to love the boy as his own. Meanwhile, Jandl’s mother (Jarmila Novotna) wanders place to place looking for him and finding it impossible thanks to a non-existent paper trail. Zinnemann somehow manages to make the more melodramatic aspects of the story feel real thanks to his never softening the devastation that the war has wrought (it’s a very rare Hollywood film that does so in this period) and displaying the sheer overwhelming number of people affected by it. The children are all endearing, their plight going straight for the heart, while the humour of Clift trying to communicate with his newfound charge a welcome relief from the unhappy situations surrounding them. A fine work and a jewel of its period that proved its timelessness (sadly) with a remake over fifty years later that sets the same story in the Balkans.