Sunday, February 10, 2013

Edge of Darkness (1943)

Director: Lewis Milestone                              Writer: Robert Rossen
Film Score: Franz Waxman                           Cinematography: Sidney Hickox
Starring: Errol Flynn, Ann Sheridan, Walter Houston and Ruth Gordon

Edge of Darkness is a story of the Norwegian resistance movement during World War II during the Nazi occupation. It concerns a small village on the west coast that has been waiting for arms in order to stage an uprising against their occupiers. Errol Flynn, in one of his earlier war films, is teamed with Ann Sheridan and solid cast of European emigres for this classic Warner Brothers propaganda piece. Lewis Milestone, who had achieved one of Universal’s biggest successes, the Oscar winning All Quiet on the Western Front, was given the directing chores and does an admirable job.

As a mid-war film it does it’s usual job, painting the Nazis as inhuman killing machines who have no compassion for their own, let alone the people they have taken over. In one scene the commander coming into the village after the uprising, goes into the communications office with one of his underlings. There, a dead Nazi is sitting dead at the desk. The commander chides his underling for exhibiting the slightest emotion and so the underling proceeds to push his fallen comrade unceremoniously out of the chair in order to type out the commander’s report. Sure, it’s propaganda, but just barely, and a fairly easy job to accomplish considering how close to reality it really was.

Flynn plays the leader of the underground movement in a small fishing village. After two years of occupation he is about to let out for England, but that night he hears that the British will be delivering arms up and down the coast. So he stays put, waiting, like the rest of the village, to strike. One of the interesting aspects of the picture is the way in which people react to the occupation. The pressure of wanting to do the right thing, coupled with the knowledge that the Nazis will kill first and ask questions later, works on the psyche of many of the villagers. Some are angry and willing to die, while others urge pacifism in the hopes that the tidal wave will eventually recede. It makes for a lot of tension, wondering which villagers will crack under the pressure and give away the plot.

The film is part of a wonderfully done box set of Flynn war pictures that also includes Desperate Journey, Northern Pursuit, Uncertain Glory and Objective, Burma! along with the usual Warner extras, newsreels, trailers, cartoons and short subjects. The black and white print is quite good, the cinematography and lighting crisp and clean, especially in the night scenes. A great secondary cast includes Judith Anderson, Ruth Gordon, Roman Bohnen and Charles Dingle. The use of the Norwegians to inspire Americans to support the war effort was transparent even then. Still, Edge of Darkness is a great example of the war films from the period that is unique for not being about France or England, and can still raise patriotic pride even today.

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