Friday, October 21, 2011

Escape (1940)



“She knows nothing about international politics, she has the mind of an artist, she sees people as general humanity, not as separate races.”

            In 1940 America had not yet entered World War II but that did not stop Hollywood from making films about the Nazis and Hitler and what they were doing to innocent people. In Escape starring Norma Shearer and Robert Taylor, an American man tires desperately to get his German mother out of the country before she is killed.
            Emmy Ritter was once a famous German stage actress. Years ago she gave up acting and moved with her German husband to America where they raised their children. After her husband died Emmy traveled back to her homeland to sell her house to make some money. Unfortunately she was arrested by the Nazis because she was harboring “enemies” of the Third Reich in her home in America.
            Mark Preysing (Taylor) has come to find his mother after he stopped receiving letters from her a few weeks previous. At the hotel he is staying in and where his mother was last known to be he inquires about her but they claim they know nothing and have not seen her either. After much questioning he finds his mother was brought to a concentration camp.
            While walking in a park he meets a young countess named Ruby von Treck (Shearer). Ruby is an American who married into her title and has lived in Germany for years even after her husband died. Mark tries to ask for her help such as who he can turn to for help. She unfortunately cannot help but he thanks her anyway and wants to meet with her again.

            Ruby returns home and there we see she is friends with an old German general named Kurt von Kolb (Conrad Veidt). He is not in the army but he is privy to much information. She asks him if he ever knew what happened to Emmy Ritter, innocently enough as if she just so happened to be curious about her at the moment. The general says that she is now in a concentration camp and will be put to death for treason that weekend.


            Mark and Ruby meet up again but she does not tell him about his mother. He sees that she is friends with the general and knows many of the Nazi officers. A few nights later Mark runs into a doctor named Henning who was asking if he can send him some American medical journals. Through some talk the doctor reveals that he knows Emmy and has been taking care of her. At the beginning of the film he was talking to Emmy and saying how he admired her as a boy so he feels some sympathy towards the woman and her son. He arranges plans with Mark to get Emmy out of the camp.
            Emmy is tensely and cleverly taken out of the camp. Mark reaches out to Ruby for help when his mother needs a place to stay for a day or two so she can recover. Ruby is not happy about Mark being there especially because she knows the general but once she sees all that Mark has done for his mother and how much he loves her she agrees wholeheartedly to help them escape. In the end it is Ruby who sacrifices herself to help Mark and his mother.

            When I read a biography on Norma Shearer the author talked about this film saying that Alfred Hitchcock was originally wanted to direct it. The story is perfect Hitchcock material but the director did not want Louis B. Mayer and all the top brass breathing down his neck and micromanaging him so he backed out. Knowing this information I could not help but feel let down and a little disappointed with the direction. Mervyn LeRoy was a great director he shot many beautiful scenes in the film but of course he was not in line with Hitchcock’s ability. There were many scenes that were supposed to be tense and very close, they were tense but not as tense as it could have been under the Master of Suspense.
            Robert Taylor as Mark was good but Norma Shearer in her few scenes she had stole the film. Of all the films I have seen of Shearer so far this was her best acted hands down. She was not over dramatic or over the top she was just perfect. The first time I ever heard Shearer speak and saw her act was in a clip from the film where Ruby and Mark first meet. I was right away taken with her speaking voice and how pretty she looked. Ever since I saw that clip I had dying to see this film and I was very taken with how well she did.
            Conrad Veidt played his usual evil German soldier self. This is the first time I have ever seen him outside of Casablanca. He was a good actor.  
            According to IMDB the author of the book Escape was German and she used a pen name to protect her family in Germany and several of the actors changed their name for the same reason. Also according to the site there is not one time where the words “Nazi” or “Germany” is said in the film.
            Escape is a very good film but knowing that Hitchcock was originally intended to direct it I found that it fell flat. There were so many scenes that under his direction had the potential to be really suspenseful and tense and just did not meet that potential. At the same time I cannot see Hitchcock directing this film with these actors they did not seem like his kind of actors. Besides it falling flat in some areas Escape is a very good film with a very good story.