Sunday, February 17, 2013
1940 saw an increasing tide of anti-Nazi sentiment in Hollywood and though the United States wasn't officially involved in the European war, studios were walking a fine line between creating films denouncing German leader Adolf Hitler and trying to keep a neutral stance. Producer and head of 20th Century-Fox Darryl F. Zanuck took the plunge in the anti-Nazi arena with an underrated melodrama called The Man I Married. On the face of it, the movie seemed to be a tabloid feature with an alternative/ working title of I Married a Nazi, with matching melodramatic poster art promising a flick wrought with sensationalism. But to dig a little deeper, filmgoers found a movie presenting an apt description of Germany at the time just before World War II.
Joan Bennett plays Carol Hoffman, a chic New York art critic who is married to German born Eric (Francis Lederer). The couple, along with their small son Ricky, travel back to Eric's homeland in 1938 to attend to family business. Germany is going through major changes with the Fuhrer at the helm and Eric quickly falls under the spell of the Third Reich, with help from an attractive uber Nazi female (Anna Sten). The fanatacism of the Nazi movement in the late 30's is deftly illustrated. Propaganda, huge political rallies and martial law are all on board, including a disturbing scene where Czech citizens living in Berlin are forced to pick up garbage in the street while armed soldiers watch and mock them.
The Man I Married was Bennett's first film for 20th Century-Fox under her new non-exclusive contract with the studio. The actress had ended her professional involvement with producer Walter Wanger while extending her personal one (the couple married in early 1940 after a long term affair). She was just embarking on the second, more interesting season of her career, as a brunette. After years as a blonde, immersed in ingenue roles, she changed her hair color to a sultry dark shade and saw a vast improvement in her choice of film parts.
Critics ran the gamut on Joan's performance in The Man I Married. A Variety review claimed: "Bennett is excellent as the educated American wife who sees through the schemes of Nazism," while New York Times reviewer Bosley Crowther wrote that Joan "might have brought more vitality and internal conflict to her role; as it is, she does little more than model dresses and express incredulity." He definitely was correct about modeling dresses as Travis Banton, the coutour master at Paramount during the early and mid-Thirties, outfitted Miss Bennett in the top 1940 vogue. It is also true that the actress' dramatic range was limited but her presence was surefire.
Fox contract player Lloyd Nolan plays an amicable war correspondent named Kenneth Delane, who opens Carol's eyes to the dangers and horrors of the Nazi regime. Austrian born Francis Lederer does a good job taking Eric Hoffman from affable, charming German-American to enraptured Nazi zombie. George Sanders was originally cast for the part but was still tied up on the set of Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent and was unable to commit. One wonders what the suave yet snide Sanders could have made of this role. Otto Kruger, Maria Ouspenskaya and moppet Johnny Russell round out the cast.
A slick, glossy movie, The Man I Married is, nonetheless, worthy of its period in film timeline. The actors give fine performances and the script is fun (perturbed Bennett to newly ordained Nazi husband: "Heil heel!"). By the way, watch for that ending which I'll bet you don't see coming for a mile away. Danke Schoen.