The recent Warner Archive DVD of the Oscar-winning 1943 Bette Davis anti-fascist drama "Watch on the Rhine" provides a good chance to watch a film with a still highly relevant message, This story beginning life as a play helps explain the live-stage vibe. The thoroughly delightful "Warner Night at the Movies," which includes a newsreel and a HILARIOUS Daffy Duck cartoon, greatly enhances the WWII-era experience of watching "Rhine."
The screen cred. this time extends well beyond Davis; Dashiell Hammett and Lillian Hellman collaborate on the screenplay, We also get Davis co-star Paul Lukas winning a well-deserved Best Actor Oscar. The supporting cast including Geraldine Fitzgerald, Beulah Bondi, and Lucille Watcon reinforces that this is one to add to your home-video library.
Watson and Hammett only being nominated for Oscars shows that "Rhine" don't get nearly the deserved respect. The New York Film Critics awarding "Rhine" Best Picture honors in 1943 and the USA National Board of Review similarly lauding the movie and Lukas is solid compensation.
The following YouTube clip of a "Rhine" trailer highlights all of the elements touched on above; it also shows why the peepers of Bette Davis warrant an '80s pop song.
Our story begins with expat heiress Sara Mueller (nee Farrelly), her German born-and-raised husband Kurt Mueller (Lukas), and their three children heading El Norte across a wall-free border from Mexico to the United States in 1940. They are going to the Virginia family estate of Sara. Widowed Fanny Farrelly (Wilson) still rules the roost with an white-glove-clad iron fist,
One can easily imagine the reactions of the Von Trapp children on landing in Vermont being akin (pun intended) to that of the Mueller kinder on arriving at the home of their grandmother. This would be especially so if the Von Trapps had lived an impoverished nomadic existence for the prior several years.
The action soon shifts to breakfast time at Chez Farrelly. Ala Southfork, the adult kids and extended houseguests call the showplace home. Son David has a respectable job befitting the offspring of a former U.S. Supreme Court justice. However, his personal life is not quite as above reproach, His misdeeds include borderline inappropriate behavior with long-time family friend/houseguest Marthe de Brancovis (Fitzgerald).
The loathsome Count Teck de Brancovis is enjoying a life of luxurious leisure SOLELY courtesy of his marriage. His numerous sins include amassing debt that he has no prayer of repaying and gambling the cash that he acquires. His lenient attitude toward the Nazis displays another of his many characters flaws.
Worlds collide when anti-fascist Kurt moves into the same house as Teck; the political views of the former and suspicions that he raises prompt the latter to develop thoughts of profiting from his poker-playing Aryan brothers at the German Embassy.
The aforementioned suspicions include Sara and Kurt being cagey regarding their life during much of the '30s. They clearly have something to hide, particularly from Teck.
Much of the mastery of "Rhine" relates to the manner in which it depicts the rapidly increasing turmoil in Europe proportionately affecting American families. Our central household goes from daily life and Fanny excitedly preparing for the arrival of her daughter and her grandchildren to the tension that must be seen to be understood,
Things fully come to a head when overseas news equally emboldens Teck and causes Kurt justifiable angst. Anyone familiar with Golden and Silver Age Hollywood fare know that both men react in manners that are very true to their characters. At the same time, the resolution is shocking.
Hammett and Hellman additionally deliver regarding penning a conclusion that is far from a "happily ever after" Hollywood ending. We fully see that war is Hell.