A Movie A Day: Quint on THE SEARCH (1948) He thinks we’re SS men or something. No wonder he’s scared to death.
Published at: Sept. 23, 2008, 1:21 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
So today’s movie was recorded off the DRV (thanks to TCM’s outstanding programming) and it’s a 1948 post WW2 film called THE SEARCH starring Montgomery Clift, who we follow over from yesterday’s TERMINAL STATION and directed by Fred Zinnemann (HIGH NOON, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS).
I must apologize in advance of this review. I had Fantastic Fest films all day and as I write this is it’s just past 3am CST. I have a 10am movie, which means if I hurry I can get about 4 ½ hours of sleep (and five movies to see tomorrow, not counting tomorrow’s AMAD), so I’m afraid I’m going to do the short-short version of AMAD today.
I almost wish the movie wasn’t so good so I could just write a quicky “Boy, this sucks ass. Avoid. Peace, out!” piece, but that’s not the case, much to my fatigued mind’s consternation.
What’s immediately striking about this film is the setting. The US army allowed the filmmakers into US occupied Germany to shoot pieces of this film and the filmmakers smartly puts that up front as a title card so that when you watch the story of children survivors of the holocaust you can also view it as a documentation of history.
Knowing that a good majority (if not all) of the demolished buildings in the small towns and desolate roadsides are essentially set decorated by the allied forces as they pushed into Germany at the end of the war gives the film a deeper emotional punch than I expected.
Montgomery Clift gets top billing, but the main character is a young Czech boy named Karel played by Ivan Jandl. Now Jandl is maybe 9 years old when he filmed this movie and is electric, positively magnetic, giving one of the great child performances in film history. In fact, he was awarded the Golden Globe for Best Juvenile performer for this film and was given a special “Juvenile Award” Oscar.
And he never acted again. He has one credit and it’s this movie. Amazing.
Anyway, the setting is immediately after the Allies captured Germany and are in the process of sorting through the concentration camp survivors. There’s a special branch of the army that is set up to reconnect families separated during the war. Thousands of terrified children are rounded up and processed.
The US are the good guys, but these kids only hear foreign languages from men in costumes trying to put them on trains and trucks just like the Nazis. Karel freaks out and runs off with another boy, pursued by the army guys. They both jump into a river, trying to swim across, but the current is strong.
Karel is able to get himself back to the river’s edge, but the other boy isn’t so lucky and drowns (rather graphically, actually). Karel remains hidden and is assumed drowned as well. He wanders the rubble for a while before running into Clift, playing Steve, a young army bridge-builder.
It’s up to Clift to gain the boy’s trust and care for him as he tries to figure out his identity.
Unfortunately, the boy is so scarred by his internment at Auschwitz (and was so young when separated from his mother and father) that he can’t remember anything, even his name. Clift gradually teaches the boy English and a very quick father/son bond is created between them.
While all this is going on, the boy’s mother is shown to have survived (but not the rest of his family, including an older sister and father) and is going from post to post, looking for her son. Jarmila Novtna plays Karel’s mother, Hannah Malik.
The two are closer than either of them expects and by the third act we realize the main conflict here is Clift’s interest in the boy. He’s about to be shipped back to America and wants to bring the boy with him, but can’t until a lot of red tape is cut through. Karel (who Clift names Jim) is taught what a mother is and has a single memory of his own, leading him on a desperate quest to find her.
Everything it great here except for one glaring horror and that’s an awful, horrible, ear-splittingly bad narration in the first 20 minutes that consists of an overly happy woman explaining what’s going on in people’s heads. I have no idea why they do it. The movie doesn’t need it and it is only there for the first reel then is completely dropped, thank God. But it really is horrible, like one of those laughably bad ‘50s educational film strips about what to do during a Communist Attack or how girls can learn to sew and keep house and shit.
But other than that, it’s an amazing movie with a stellar and vulnerable performance by Clift who seems to always get fucked over in the AMADs we’ve covered so far. Ivan Jandl is great, Clift is great, Novotna is great, the photography is great, the script (minus the voiceover) is great (so great it won the Oscar).
Final Thoughts: I can’t believe this one isn’t more well known or lauded… at least released on a decent DVD. It’s an Oscar winner, a fantastic document of a specific time period in World History thanks to the shooting locations and an extremely touching and well-acted film. I wonder if Criterion’s ever thought about going after it? It’s right up their alley.