Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

15 March 2013

The North Star

I am not sure why this film is called The North Star. I think there might have been something about it during the movie, but if there was I missed it or I've forgotten.

In any case, Lewis Milestone's film is the worst kind of sentimental pro-war propaganda pretending to be an anti-war commentary. There were a lot of propaganda films in the early 1940s, and this one is slightly different in that it is about Soviet villagers who are invaded by the Germans – no Americans in sight in this movie. No Americans, that is, unless you count Anne Baxter and Walter Huston and Farley Granger and Dana Andrews and Dean Jagger and Walter Brennan. Okay, everyone is either American or German in this film, except that the Americans in The North Star have names like Kolya and Olga and Boris.

The movie is so clichéd that there are literally scenes of Russian folk-dancing in act one and about five different "Russian folk songs", which are really just Aaron Copland tunes with lyrics by Ira Gershwin.

Yes: Copland and Gershwin worked on this movie, and the script is by playwright Lillian Hellman. The cinematography is by the great James Wong Howe, and the excellent cast also includes Erich von Stroheim as a Nazi doctor. The special effects in this movie are also pretty fabulous, and they include a great number of awesome explosions and several fires. Exciting stuff. At least, it could be...

This poster is totally unrelated to the film
But this movie is awful. There are so many tearful goodbyes that I lost count. And the scenarios where people sacrifice themselves in order to help the village or "do something greater than themselves" are so plentiful that one wonders who is left alive to benefit from so many sacrifices.

Worse yet are all the ridiculous platitudes about how this will be the last war we ever fight, and we owe our lives to this great nation and we ought to do anything to preserve it.

And then there is the blatant propaganda of The North Star. Now, I know the Nazis were bad people (they still are!) but they did enough real bad things for us to talk about without us making up stories about them. The North Star seems to think it prudent to tell the world that the Nazis are bleeding Slavic children to death in order to use their blood for transfusions on German soldiers. Really?!?! Aside from this being the most sentimental crime an evil Nazi could ever commit, it is also a totally undocumented phenomenon and was, in all likelihood, invented for the purposes of propaganda only.

The North Star, I'm afraid, is a wartime curiosity and not much more than that.