Monday, October 08, 2012

Tonight's Movie: The Man I Married (1940)

THE MAN I MARRIED is a powerful anti-Nazi film released by 20th Century-Fox 16 months ahead of America's entry into World War II. I'm surprised that this frank film, a fascinating slice of movie and war history, isn't better known.

It's 1938, and Carol Hoffman (Joan Bennett), a New York art critic, takes a three-month leave of absence to accompany her German-born husband, Eric (Francis Lederer), to Germany, along with their little boy, Ricky (Johnny Russell). The Hoffmans intend to combine a long vacation with Eric helping his elderly father (Otto Kruger) sell the family business.

The Hoffmans arrive in a much different Germany than Eric had left years before. Carol is increasingly troubled by the oppressive atmosphere under Hitler, but Eric falls under Hitler's spell and decides he wants to remain in Germany permanently with a new love, devoted Nazi Frieda (Anna Sten). Her marriage in ruins, Carol must find a way to get her little boy out of the country against her husband's wishes. There's a humdinger of an ending which couldn't have been more perfect.

This was an excellent film which was interesting on many levels. Some of the attitudes seemed quite modern; for instance, Eric and Carol initially believe stories about concentration camps have been exaggerated by the press to sell newspapers. Their lack of trust in the media would fit right in over seven decades later. They soon discover, of course, that if anything the press was underplaying what was happening in Germany.

Another "modern" angle is that Carol is both a career woman and a mother; she and her husband seem to be the very model of a glamorous New York dual-career marriage. Unfortunately for Carol, her independent attitudes aren't a good fit for Nazi Germany, and as her husband grows more uptight and "German," outspoken Carol and Eric clash repeatedly.

Naziism is examined in detail. I loved a conversation Eric and Carol have on a train, innocently marveling over stories in a German paper that there are so many jobs in Germany that workers are being transported in from Austria; they also wonder how the new Volkswagen car can be so inexpensive. A fellow passenger dares to sarcastically set them straight.

Carol has a harrowing run-in with Nazi authorities when a neighbor is arrested, and she finally has had enough after watching her husband swept up in the excitement of a Nazi party rally. As she tells the American newsman (Lloyd Nolan) who comes to her aid, "I've seen men go mad over football games, but nothing like this!"

I won't spoil the ending, but I didn't see it coming till the last minute and it was jaw-droppingly perfect. This really is a must-see movie for anyone who is interested in the films of WWII.

I particularly loved Joan Bennett as the American whose dream of a lovely vacation in Germany is replaced by a crumbling marriage in a very scary environment. She does an excellent job taking her character through this transition in a film which is only 77 minutes long.

It's always interesting to me how actors criss-cross my viewing in unexpected ways. I was recently reading about Austrian-born actor Francis Lederer in the context of some research on the TV series THE HIGH CHAPARRAL; it seems that Don Collier, who plays ranch foreman Sam on the show, got his start as the real-life foreman on Lederer's ranch. The home and stables are today Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monuments.

THE MAN I MARRIED was directed by Irving Pichel from a script by Oliver H.P. Garrett. The black and white photography was by J. Peverell Marley. Joan Bennett's wardrobe was created by the great Travis Banton.

The film's supporting cast includes Maria Ouspenskaya and Ludwig Stossel.

THE MAN I MARRIED is available on DVD-R from Fox Cinema Archives. It's a beautiful print. Recommended.


Blogger Clara Fercovic said...

Sounds great and I love the actors, I'll try to find it :)

5:50 AM  
Blogger DKoren said...

This is one I'd very much like to see! I will keep my eye out.

8:36 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Never seen this... just watched Secret Beyond the Door... (1948) with Miss Bennett. She's one of those actresses... I dunno, there's something odd about her. Maybe it's her diction. Maybe it's her mouth. *L* I'm not sure, but every time I see her, I try to figure out what it is that's odd about her, and I haven't come up with it yet. Maybe it's just buried feelings from watching Dark Shadows when I was a kid!

10:56 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hope you can find it, Clara and Deb! It was such a detailed look at Nazi Germany, I'm really surprised I haven't read more about it in the past in conjunction with similar Hollywood films which prepared the American public for war, i.e., CONFESSIONS OF A NAZI SPY.

DARK SHADOWS is as good a reason as any, Cliff! I always avoided that as I don't care for horror. I love Bennett's film presence, she's a really interesting actress. I think my favorite of her performances seen to date is THE RECKLESS MOMENT.

Best wishes,

11:01 AM  
Blogger Moira Finnie said...

Oh, I'm so glad the read that this is finally available to be seen again on DVD-r. I have always admired Lederer's films, particularly in this period (not the later, ghoulish stuff so much). Joan Bennett should be known for more than the Fritz Lang films. She was a very good actress when the script and her co-stars drew something more out of her. And this movie will even help me to satisfy my need to see Lloyd Nolan once a month. ;-)
Thanks for highlighting such a forgotten gem.

11:15 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Moira,

It's wonderful to hear from you, thanks for stopping by! Hope you'll enjoy having a chance to check this title out, I thoroughly enjoyed it while also appreciating it from an historical perspective. And Lloyd Nolan was a definite factor when I chose it. :)

Best wishes,

11:22 AM  
Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

This sounds like a very interesting movie. I'm adding it to my Classicflix queue. In fact, I think I'll bump it up so I can watch it sooner (that queue is at least 100 movies long!).

I have an interest in WWII films but haven't watched many about Naziism. Have you ever seen Pressure Point? It's a 1960s film with Sidney Poitier and Bobby Darin that deals with Neo-Nazis, racism and mental illness. It was really interesting and also another frank film that isn't very well-known.

1:02 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm glad to know ClassicFlix has this, Raquelle, and I hope you'll enjoy it! I was fascinated.

One striking aspect I didn't mention in my post is that the film uses a *lot* of German language -- not everywhere (Kruger and Sten's characters speak English to Bennett, as does a Nazi interrogator) -- but in some ways the more extensive use of a foreign language is more authentic than some other films of the era. One gets more of a sense what it would have been like for Joan Bennett surrounded by a language she didn't know.

I don't know PRESSURE POINT at all and just headed over to Netflix and added it to my Instant queue. Thanks! I enjoy both Poitier and Darin so it sounds interesting on multiple levels.

Best wishes,

1:29 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Moira, I just saw you in the TCM Now Playing Guide! I'm so excited to see you on TCM November 30th!! :)

Best wishes,

9:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This sounds very interesting and has a great cast - I've seen a couple of Anna Sten's films recently and would be interested to see more of her work. Not sure how likely I am to get a chance to see it, but I will hope! Judy

11:04 PM  
Blogger Vienna said...

Thanks for this review. Not a film I knew but have now seen it and agree it was very interesting. Though I did feel Lederer's conversion to Nazism was too rapid.
Interesting that it was released in 1940 and that Hollywood was prepared to take a very clear political stand.
Good part for Joan and Lloyd Nolan never disappoints.

9:37 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Really hope you have the chance to see it, Judy! Thanks so much for stopping by, always nice to hear from you.

Glad you were able to view it, Vienna! I know what you mean about the fast conversion -- one of the drawbacks of a short movie, it had to be accomplished fairly quickly. Very interesting to consider this film in the context of the time it was made and released.

Best wishes,

9:43 AM  

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