This wartime propaganda film kicks off with a long introductory passage that appears almost like a documetary. It's fairy done too: the patriotic French are eager to sign up to fight the enemy in World War II, but two weeks later they've had their asses handed to them on a plate. France is now ruled by Marshal Petain who orders surrender because the Germans now run the show. A group of French soldiers who do precisely that think they're being transported back to Paris to carry on working, merely under German rule, but they're really being transported to Hauptbahnhof, a military prison camp.
There's a large starring cast, as there was obviously a deliberate attempt to avoid having just one. I didn't know all of the names on the title card: Jean Pierre Aumont, Gene Kelly, Sir Cedric Hardwick, Richard Whorf, Joseph Calleia, Peter Lorre and Hume Cronyn, but some do better than others. Aumont is a believable Frenchman mostly because he was a Frenchman; Kelly isn't singing and dancing so he's at least enjoyable, but he's not quite so believable as a Frenchman; Whorf isn't really believable as anything because he's overacting so badly; Calleia plays a Chilean freedom fighter and he's highly enjoyable.
Peter Lorre was born in Austria, just like Hitler, making him believable as a Nazi, but it's his acting that shines here. He may well have enjoyed the irony that saw him play a Nazi after escaping their rule and seeing himself used as 'documentary footage' in the German propaganda film, The Eternal Jew. Hume Cronyn gets the best part as a French wine merchant who speaks German and so becomes the camp translator and traitor to the cause.
The whole thing is not really a film at all, just a piece of propaganda. It's just propaganda from our side not theirs, making it a little more palatable but no more real. As a rallying cry it may well have worked well. As a film, from the perspective of sixty years after the war it rallied for has been over, it's nothing more than an opportunity for us to see Peter Lorre as a great Nazi and Hume Cronyn as a great weasel.
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