One year, one film: 1943
Watch on the Rhine, dir. Herman Shumlin
starring Bette Davis and Paul Lukas
Recommended | HIGHLY RECOMMENDED | Must-See
Watch on the Rhine is a film that starts out deceptively pleasant before turning to heartbreaking drama. It was one of my favorite discoveries of the “Through the Library, Alphabetically” project that I completed in 2012.
The film follows Sara Muller (Bette Davis), who has been living abroad with her husband Kurt (Paul Lukas) and their three children. They’ve decided to come back to the US and stay with Sara’s mother (Lucile Watson) in Washington, D.C. until they can find a home of their own. Upon arrival, they find that Sara’s mother is hosting two other boarders: a Romanian count named Teck (George Coulouris) and his wife (Geraldine Fitzgerald).
Teck is the antithesis of Kurt, it turns out; while Kurt has been working with an underground resistance group in Europe, Teck is a Nazi sympathizer. When Teck discovers what Kurt has been doing in Europe, he decides to blackmail the Mullers.
The film features stellar performances through an emotional rollercoaster of a story, full of suspense and heartbreak. I found it to be a very effective film… but what say the critics of 1943?
Watch on the Rhine was named one of Photoplay’s “Best Pictures of the Month,” Paul Lukas and Lucile Watson landing on the “Best Performances” list. Their review called it “a must-see for all” and praised the performances across the board.
Film Bulletin for 1943 noted that critics “heap[ed] superlatives on [the] anti-Nazi drama,” quoting several newspaper critics: “One of the year’s Ten Best Pictures,” said the New York Post; “One of the best translations from the theatre that it has been my privilege to see,” said the reviewer of the New York Herald Tribune; the Philadelphia Record called it “One of the tensest and most dramatic productions of the season.”
On the industry publications front, Variety‘s review was very positive: “The film more than retains the vital theme of the original play. It actually carries the theme further and deeper, and it does so with passionate conviction and enormous skill.”
Even Bosley Crowther of The New York Times heaped praise on the picture, calling it “a distinguished film — a film full of sense, power and beauty.”
As for the box office, Film Bulletin notes that in “the film palaces in the Times Square district,” Watch on the Rhine ran for five weeks — two of which were “record weeks.”
An awards season success, a hit with critics, a box office earner, and a TMP favorite discovery… Watch on the Rhine is a great film deserving of all of the praise it gets! Highly recommended.