I put together a WWII double bill that I really enjoyed and think some of our members might find interesting, at least from an historical perspective.
First up, The Boy from Stalingrad
(1943 Columbia). Although 3 adult actors have small parts as Nazi officers and there are 11 extras playing German soldiers, the principal cast is limited to 5 boys and 1 girl, playing Russian children. Of all the actors, the only name likely to be generally recognized is 14-year-old Scotty Beckett.
The somewhat weird story has the 6 children alone in an abandoned and mostly destroyed town a few miles from Stalingrad where the Nazis are mobilizing for their forward push. The children use clever means to slow the advance.
What makes the film a real curio is that the storyline couldn’t more fully follow the communist line if Joe S. himself had written the script, plenty of “duty and honor” messages, even to the point of having the kids teach the communist manifesto (prominently displayed on a poster on the back wall of their “headquarters”) to their youngest member. I had to keep reminding myself that, at the time, Russia was an ally and the fact that Hitler was bogged down on his Eastern front probably saved many allied lives.
In spite of the “message,” I found the film a pleasant experience, and a good lead-in to the much-better second film:Confirm or Deny
(1941 Twentieth Century Fox). This film is centered around Operation Sea Lion, Hitler’s planned invasion of England. I imagine our British friends know all about it, but if like me you’ve forgotten what little, if any, you knew, you might find interesting this link to the very informative Wikipedia listing:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Sea_Lion
No shortage of stars in this film. The leads are played by Don Ameche as “Mitch,” editor of the London office of a UP-type news bureau and Joan Bennett as “Jennifer,” an English teletype operator assigned to assist him in communicating with the home office and to see to it that he doesn’t send out any damaging classified information.
Naturally, they battle each other throughout the film, but since it’s a romantic comedy as well as a wartime drama, we know in advance how they will end up. The two do an excellent job playing off one another, both in the comic and the dramatic scenes.
Also in the cast, fresh from their performances in How Green Was My Valley
are John Loder, as Mitch’s competion with Jennifer; Arthur Shields, as a blind WWI vet; and Roddy McDowall, as a war orphan who hero-worships Ameche. Perhaps the most fun in the cast are two well-known character actors. Raymond Walburn plays H. Cyrus Stuyvesant, Ameche’s stuffed-shirt boss who doesn’t seem to get it that there’s a war on (and Ameche isn’t about to clue him in). Eric Blore plays a hotel manager who is putty in the hands of the fast-talking Ameche. When the building the newsroom was located in is destroyed in the blitz, Ameche decides to set up operations in the hotel’s basement and double-talks his way around the poor, befuddled manager.
The efforts of the Londoners to carry on as usual during the blitz are well presented and effectively “frame” the story. As you would expect in a story with this setting, there are some heartbreaking losses along the way, a clear reminder of how serious this period of wartime history was.
All-in-all, an enjoyable evening, which I can readily recommend. Whether or not you enjoy WWII films, there’s sure to be something you’ll enjoy, and the acting in the “feature presentation” is uniformly impressive. It’s a just-about perfect blend of comedy and drama.