The North Star (1943)
Made at the request of President Roosevelt, this fictional Sam Goldwyn independent production recreates the Soviet side of WWII by taking us into the lives of a small town family, apparently Ukrainian. The cast is stellar, with writing by Lillian Hellman, music by Aaron Copland, lyrics by Ira Gershwin (it's very musical)...you get the idea? This propaganda film pulled no punches. But it's troubled in a lot of ways, not the least of which is its goody-goody view of Russian life that makes Russian propaganda look accurate. Dana Andrews is a breath of fresh air, but really, do they have to have him singing and playing the balalaika while walking a country road? Smiling? But in uniform, which is key. Luckily, Andrews is thoroughly great in the rest of the film. But I decided to watch this film for another reason: James Wong Howe. Yes, his cinematography is quite stunning, and virtuosic through a range of styles. Much of the first part of the film is in a kind of brightly lit quasi-documentary style, with lots of hearty happy faces, all tightly framed and with some key moving camera to keep it real. Some of the family scenes inside are filmed with beautiful rich contrast. But what a quirky film in so many ways. It's heroic, for sure. When it gets to the war parts it's gripping and much more realistic. But there is consistent music, which was a surprise. Even Walter Brennan sings. But the bulk of the film is the war scenes, and they are impressive. Most of the film was shot at the Samuel Goldwyn studios, and it feels convincing. Walter Huston is commanding, and good old Erich von Stroheim takes on an ugly role with gusto. Lewis Milestone directs much of this mishmash with a feeling of a 1936 film, the characters simple and overly idealized as if fighting the Depression with dignity. The early war scenes (many shot with decent back projection) save the film, but in a way they are meant to be context for the human dramas of the town folk. It is when the war enters the village that the elements all meet and the movie rises up. By the end, it is the obvious writing that pulls the movie down and the stunning photograrphy that saves it.
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A very mixed experience--the 2nd half is really good, so get thereReviewed bysecondtakeVote: 7/10
The North Star (1943)
North Star is not merely the story of a group of anti-Nazi villagers engaged in a desperate rear-guard action against the Germans. It is an interesting allegory dealing with issues of courage, fortitude and honesty in dealing with the most frightful of adversaries. The peasants of North Star could be any of us, carrying on with quiet heroism the mundane, routinized humdrum of our own lives. Suddenly forced to face a seemingly indefatigable evil, they discover resources and skills they never knew they had. Along the way, important lessons are learned about love and duty and the importance of principle in defending one's homeland.
An exciting story, and one that is quite uplifting. It's positive views of Russia's anti-Nazi resistance would later precipitate howls of disapproval from the McCarthy witch-hunters.
I saw "The North Star" when I was a child of 6 or 7 and it made a lasting impression on me. I believe older cousins took me to see it while they were baby sitting. I will say without hesitation that it was not intended as a movie for children and that is as true today as it was in 1943. For years I could vividly remember scenes from the movie but did not remember the title. I happened to see it on TV by pure chance late one night during the '70s. I think it was about halfway through the film before I realized what I was watching, but from there on everything was as I remembered it.
It might correctly be labeled a propaganda film as it was made during a time when we were engaged in WWII. Germany was our enemy and Russia was our ally. As the saying goes, "war makes strange bed fellows." The Nazi war machine is depicted as evil and Russians are shown as innocent victims. Both are indisputable facts. The purpose of the film may have been to propagandize just how evil we believed the Nazis to be but we see films like that all the time. One example, "Empire of the Sun" (1987), a very fine film by Steven Spielberg. That was also an evil empire. Its not considered propaganda now because the war is long over. Its "art." Some might consider "JFK" as a lot of propaganda. Oliver Stone considers it "art".
If one is interested in films of historical periods, such as WWII, this might certainly be a film of interest.