A Movie A Week: THE SEVENTH CROSS (1944)
Nowadays you’ve got to know a lot to know what’s the right thing to do.
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the next installment of A Movie A Week.
[For those who new to the column, A Movie A Week is just that, a dedicated way for me explore vintage cinema every week. I’ll review a movie every Monday and each one will be connected to the one before it via a common thread, either an actor, director, writer, producer or some other crew member. Each film, pulled from my DVD shelf or recorded on the home DVR (I heart TCM) will be one I haven’t seen.]
As if the fates knew it was time for this week’s A Movie A Week column I awoke to find Fed-Ex had delivered my computer home from the shop. The Apple folks did very well by me, not only fixing the logic board that froze up as I was on my way back home from the impromptu road trip I went on… a pilgrimage to Joe Dante’s New Bev fest: Dante’s Inferno, where I saw Dante’s infamous Movie Orgy, the Gremlins workprint and a Roger Corman double-feature with Corman in the house to discuss them… but also fixing some cosmetic dings and leaving me with a machine that feels brand new.
And they didn’t even have to erase my harddrive, so everything was right where I needed it, including the three or four Comic-Con interviews I was working on when the computer crashed. Look for those to start hitting this week.
But right now let’s get to the task at hand. Today’s movie, THE SEVENTH CROSS, is one that I recorded off of TCM. Every once in a while I scan through TCM’s schedule for the week. More often then not something catches my eye… either an actor, director or a synopsis… and I end up recording a couple of movies.
This one has been on my DVR for a while and I finally found a place for it in my AMAW/AMAD columns.
We follow over the writer of last AMAW’s ROPE, Mr. Hume Cronyn. Cronyn was better known as an actor and that’s how he appears in this film. Cronyn plays a supporting character in this WW2 thriller, friend of Spencer Tracy’s George Heisler, one of seven escapees of a German concentration camp.
This isn’t a war movie, even though it set during wartime. It is not really a man on a mission movie, either, and I can’t even really say it’s a cat and mouse thriller as Tracy hides from the SS because there’s not really anybody specifically hunting him.
The real point of the movie is to show the inherent goodness in the common men and women of Germany. Not everybody, of course, but in the majority of the people.
THE SEVENTH CROSS is set in 1936 and Tracy is a German. I’m not sure if they ever really tell us why he was imprisoned… if they did it was something small that I somehow missed while watching… but I don’t think he’s Jewish. The impression I got from the opening is that this was when the Third Reich began purging its country, gathering criminals and vagabonds into these camps that they’d later fill with Jews, homosexuals and Gypsies.
Watching war movies that were made while WW2 was still going on holds a special kind of fascination for me. I mean, consider how fresh this stuff was back then, the purity of emotion captured in movies like these, not diluted by distance. By the same token I doubt we can experience these movies in the same way as audiences back then, when people would leave the cinemas and then go home, turn on the radio and hear real live war reports.
All that said, the movie doesn’t really start out well. The flawed first act is what probably has kept it from being more well known or released in some kind of box set. The set up is fine… seven men escape a concentration camp and after the first night only a few have escaped capture. The operator of the camp orders the seven trees in the camp’s yard to be turned into crosses, one for each escapee.
Like I said, a pretty good premise. The problem is in the execution. We jump perspectives a good three times before settling on Spencer Tracy and even then we still get the voiceover from the first guy and mastermind of the escape. The dude is the first caught and his voice-over continues after his death crucified in the courtyard. Instead of the here and now voice-over we get his deathly commentary and frankly… all the voice-over in the movie is more annoying than enlightening. For the first 20 minutes I was wondering if there was going to be any real dialogue at all or if we’d just get Mr. Narrator describing everything on the screen.
But thankfully the narrator leaves us alone and let’s Tracy do what Tracy does best… carry a movie.
Tracy becomes a sort of celebrity due to his escape, although that doesn’t help him hide. The man is kind of lost, eeking by only by the kindness of strangers, some knowing who he is, some suspecting, some completely ignorant, but always under the threat of discovery by the Gestapo.
There are a couple of interesting moments (like the theatrical costumer who was supplying one of the other escapees, a famous acrobat, with clothes played by Agnes Moorehead and the Jewish doctor who treats a bad cut on Tracy’s hand who must, by law, inform Tracy that he’s Jewish before beginning treatment), but the movie turns around when we’re introduced to a pair of old friend’s of Tracy’s character, Paul and Liesel Roeder played by Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy.
If you’re like me you were introduced to Cronyn and Tandy as the ideal grandparents. If there was an old couple in the ‘80s, especially in Amblin films, they were Cronyn and Tandy. Of special signifigance to me are *batteries not included and Cocoon.
So, yeah, it’s odd to see them both so young and in love here. When they filmed their part in this film they were only a year or two into their marriage that would last 52 years and that adds a tangible dynamic to their husband and wife characters.
But what’s really great about them is that when Tracy shows up he finds them to be good Germans. They’re happy. The new Government has made them wealthier, providing money for each of their half-dozen kids. They’re prospering under Hitler and choose to ignore the freedoms they’re giving up. Hell, it doesn’t effect them, so why do they care?
They tell Tracy all this completely unaware that he’s being hunted by the Gestapo. Tracy tries to leave them be, anxious to get away for a couple of reasons… one being that he’s concerned his friends have changed and will turn him in, but the other is that no matter what they are his friends and he is putting them in jeopardy.
However, Cronyn discovers what’s going on and all his rhetoric disappears. He bravely takes on the task of escaping his friend to Holland.
All the while the resistance is aware of Tracy’s escape is trying to locate him as well, preparing his escape for when they do find him. The trouble is he’s hiding himself too well and you’re not sure if they’ll find him before the Nazis.
Cronyn and Tandy are the real saviors of this movie. Their characters are fascinating and come in just when the movie needed them the most. Cronyn in particular gives a great performance. I wasn’t surprised when I found out after the film that Cronyn was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. He lost the Oscar to Barry Fitzgerald for GOING MY WAY, which also won Best Picture.
Final Thoughts: THE SEVENTH CROSS is a flawed movie, but is worth seeing if only for what Tracy, Cronyn and Tandy bring to the screen. If the first act was executed better I think you’d be seeing this film taught in film schools and playing in regular rotation at revival houses in the big cities. As it stands now you’ve got a movie that film scholars and classic cinema fans can seek out and enjoy, but one that probably won’t ever be a household name.
Upcoming A Movie A Week Titles:
Monday, August 24th: TRACK OF THE CAT (1954)
Monday, August 31st: THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931)
Monday, September 7th: THE MAYOR OF HELL (1933)
Monday, September 14th: MIDNIGHT MARY (1933)
Next week we follow composer Roy Webb over to William Wellman’s Robert Mitchum Vs. Evil Panther movie TRACK OF THE CAT. I’m hearing some really dreadful things about this family film, but what the hell. It’s Mitchum fighting a blood-thirsty giant cat. How bad can it really be?
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April 27th: How To Marry a Millionaire
May 4th: Phone Call From A Stranger
May 11th: Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte
May 18th: Too Late The Hero
May 25th: The Best Man
June 1st: The Catered Affair
June 8th: The Quiet Man
June 15th: Rio Grande
June 22nd: The Getaway
June 29th: The Mackintosh Man
July 6th: The Long, Hot Summer
July 13th: Journey Into Fear
July 20th: How The West Was Won
August 3rd: Call Northside 777
August 14th: Rope
Click here for the full 215 movie run of A Movie A Day!
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Aug. 17, 2009, 11:41 p.m. CST
Aug. 17, 2009, 11:51 p.m. CST
Photography in the mountains was beautiful. Mt Rainier is beautiful country. The movie just never gelled for me. Mitchum does ok, the great ones usually do. I found myself bored to death and was actually talking to my television (something I never do, and constantly poke fun at my wife for). "Show Mitchum and the damned cat!" I kept yelling.
Aug. 17, 2009, 11:53 p.m. CST
The movie should have cut all the family tension, and just been Mitchum in the snow hunting the cat.
Aug. 17, 2009, 11:53 p.m. CST
way better than these movies
Aug. 18, 2009, 7:07 a.m. CST
by Grammaton Cleric Binks
Now that does get the old noggin' thinking. Yes Quint, like you most of us fell in love with Cronyn and Tandy from the Coccoon/*batteries not included era because that was our first glimpse of them. I've seen them onscreen younger over the years, but not together. I'll have to check this one out. By the way,the OLEG Movie Club, inspired by your original AMAD column is still going strong. Our catergory this round is black and white, and I'm starting the ball rolling with Them!
Aug. 18, 2009, 7:25 a.m. CST
This is an early Fred Zinnemann film, before he really was able to sink his teeth into a script. Four years later he would make "The Search" with Montgomery Clift. That film was featured on the AMAD set a while back, but it still deserves a lot of attention - although its yet to garner a respectable DVD release.
Aug. 18, 2009, 9:01 a.m. CST
Quint, you've intrigued me but Netflix does not have this film. I'll keep an eye on TCM - hopefully they'll air time sometime.
Aug. 18, 2009, 9:55 a.m. CST
I want candy, bubble gum, and taffy / Skip to the sweet shop with my sweetheart Sandy / Got my pennies saved so I'm her sugar daddy / I'm her Hume Cronyn and she's my Jessica Tandy, I want candy!
Aug. 18, 2009, 1:52 p.m. CST
in the common men and women of Germany. Not everybody, of course, but in the majority of the people.<< <br><br> Cue anti-German sentiment in 3... 2... 1...<br><br> No. No takers? Well. <br> I haven't seen the film, but that's kind of a weird sentiment for a movie made while the war was still going on. Didn't the producers worry that they might embolden the enemy(tm)?
Aug. 18, 2009, 1:55 p.m. CST
"The real point of the movie is to show the inherent goodness in the common men and women of Germany. Not everybody, of course, but in the majority of the people." <br><br> Cue anti-German sentiment in 3... 2... 1... <br><br> No? No takers? Well. <br> That's kind of a weird sentiment for a film produced while the war was still going on. Weren't the producers afraid they might weaken troop morale and EMBOLDEN THE ENEMY?
Aug. 18, 2009, 5:44 p.m. CST
If you haven't seen it, then go fucking rent it. It has Robert Ryan, Van Heflin, Janet Leigh, and Mary Astor in a great little role. If I remember right Quint reviewed it back in his AMAD column. Zinneman's best movie IMO.
Feb. 7, 2010, 2:48 a.m. CST
tULUem <a href="http://rtukzz.com/ ">gDtvLL</a>
Feb. 7, 2010, 2:49 a.m. CST
EzqnXLmK <a href="http://cslxjy.com/ ">DJPAiHMq</a>
Feb. 7, 2010, 3:52 p.m. CST
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Feb. 18, 2010, noon CST
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