Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 1942. Twentieth Century Fox. Screenplay by Nunnally Johnson, based on the novel by Nevil Shute. Cinematography by Edward Cronjager. Produced by Nunnally Johnson. Music by Alfred Newman. Production Design by Richard Day, Maurice Ransford. Costume Design by Dolly Tree. Film Editing by Allen McNeil. Academy Awards 1942.
Monty Woolley is a Brit enjoying a vacation in France after most of the country has fallen to the Nazi occupiers. Travelling home is going to be a significant challenge, made that much more difficult when the couple running his inn beg him to take their children (Peggy Ann Garner, Roddy McDowall) with him to London until they can be reunited. He agrees, begrudgingly, setting off on their journey and, without meaning to, picking up more children in increasingly devastating circumstances along the way. The mean old man constantly insists that he can’t stand the tykes but is clearly far too good a soul to leave the little heartbreakers to fend for themselves. This touching, genuine film focusing on the plight of the young suffering devastation in Europe is made with a great deal of optimism despite the fact that the war was far from being won, given smart complexity by Woolley’s performance in the lead. When you get to the final third, where our hero squares off against a Nazi officer (Otto Preminger), the plot takes a disingenuous turn that even the most naive person would find hard to believe, ruining any chance that director Irving Pichel had of moving beyond his reputation for B-level pictures and into the world of prestige. This, combined with a dissatisfying ending, mar what could have been a sterling classic, but the kids are all perfect charmers, none of them coming off as annoying child stars, and the urgency of the subject matter is felt. Anne Baxter is lovely in a supporting role.