Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Mortal Storm - Frank Borzage

During the Cold War, it was easy for movie studios to produce movies bashing the USSR or China: their movies were forbidden there anyway, so any viewers in those countries were seen as potential consumers. During the years of McCarthyism, producing an anti-Communist film also represented not being in the black list and having government subsidies. A similar logic applies today with movies praising the heroism of American soldiers or anything that presents Iranians or Middle-Eastern Muslims like a bunch of fanatics: by producing movies like the Iron Man saga, or Charlie Wilson's War, Hollywood studios aren't taking a stance, but making profits and creating fertile soil for prospect markets -because, of course, the Middle East eventually become a region full of American-style democracy where everybody will love Hollywood movies.

Hollywood is not very good at going against mainstream political opinions. Back in the 1930s, once political persecution and concentration camps became common in Germany, Hollywood remained silent. Germany was the second largest market for American movies in the World, so too much money was at stake. Also, political repression affected only communists, or so thought people back in the day. Charles Chaplin was one of the first persons to take a clear stance against Nazism with The Great Dictator (which he produced with his money, by the way), but the only studio that took an official position against Hitler before anti-Nazism was profitable was Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer with The Mortal Storm. This is a movie worth watching, if nothing else because it shows that corporations can do the right thing for moral reasons rather than for accounting profits (here is the IRS' list of authorized charities, in case you got to this post by mistake). 

This is a movie about a family breaking apart after Hitler's raise to power. The family is composed by Professor Roth, a "non-Aryan", his Junker wife, the two sons of her previous marriage, and the two children of the couple: Freya (played by Margaret Sullavan), and a boy. The two sons and Freya's fiancé join the Nazi Party after Hindenburg appoints Hitler as Chancellor, changing the dynamics of the family. A once calm and nice German town next to the Alps suddenly becomes enthralled with Nazism and its promise to restore Germany's greatness, which is funny when you think that modern Germans claim that "nobody knew" what was really going on in the concentration camps. 

This is an anti-Nazi propaganda film and has no intention to show anything close to objectivity. With the exception of Professor Roth, his wife, and Freya, Germans are shown as relentless machines of destruction, a view that is somewhat vindicated today (2012) given the attitude of average Germans towards their Greek fellows. In the movie, Germans are shown beating a Jewish elder man en masse, burning books, boycotting science classes, and willing to shoot their beloved ones for the sake of the Führer. As it happens, all of this turned out to be true, but in the 1930s only the communists and the Jewish established in the United States said it.

The end is probably the most interesting part of the movie. (SPOILER FOLLOWS) There is a non-written rule in Hollywood that endings must be happy. The obvious Hollywood-style end of the movie is that the family to move to The Land of The Free and The Home of The Brave. Alas, Professor Roth dies in a concentration camp, Freya is shot under the orders of his fiancé, and the two Nazi brothers have a shivering dialogue. One can only guess to what extent MGM was against Nazism that it was willing to break the convention and having a sad (and therefore more impacting) end.

The trailer of The Mortal Storm is here:

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