Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Seventh Cross:

I just finished watching one of those movies I've been meaning to see (from an endless list: Fred Zinnemann's 1944 classic, "The Seventh Cross," and what a powerful, emotionally gripping experience it was.

For most of the story, it's about as bleak a tale as can be, Nazi Germany in 1936, and the hunting down of seven escaped prisoners of a concentration camp, the evil commandant of the camp having seven crosses erected (from trees) on which to hang each of the escapees. The prisoners represent (quoting Wikipedia) "a cross-section of German society: a writer, a circus performer, a schoolmaster, a farmer, a Jewish grocery clerk, and two prisoners who are apparently political activists. One is George Heisler (Spencer Tracy) and the other his mentor Wallau (Ray Collins), the leader of the group."

The film employs a marvelous sort of "ghost" device in having Wallau, who is the first to be captured, tortured and murdered, narrate in a voice over the entire film. His voiceover speech as he dies (silently) is gut wrenching and though hopeless for himself, wills his spirit to live in order to hep his friend, Heisler and restore his faith in humanity, despite the beasts of the world, i.e., Nazi, Germany.

Heisler has given up on mankind, is world weary, browbeaten and exhausted to the point of near death, but somehow never gives up. Tracy brings a quiet desperation to the role that is profoundly moving. The second half of the film features well-deserved Oscar-nominated performance from Hume Cronyn, as Heisler's old friend Paul, along with his wife, Liesel -played by Jessica Tandy.

It was shown on TCM as part of a tribute to cinematographer Karl Freund, the evening having begun withMetropolis. While I'd known his work there (and now The Seventh Cross), I hadn't realized until last night Freund moved to Hollywood, where he was persuaded by Desi Arnez to become the cinematographer for "I Love Lucy" locking in 151 episodes! I always did think Lucy might be the False Maria!

Having just finished listening to Das Rheingold,live from Bayreuth beforehand, it was almost impossible not to hear a lot of Wagner's opera in Roy Webb's score - which runs almost nonstop throughout the entire length of the film.

I'm not sure when this airs again, but I'd catch it if I were you! Powerful, stuff.

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