Address Unknown

ADDRESS UNKNOWN was left buried at 142nd place under 1944’s stack of offerings, the least seen of the years anti-Nazi properties which included The Hitler Gang, The Seventh Cross, The Master Race and and Tomorrow The World!  While more attention went to those higher-profile agitprops and the $1,100,000 gross was low, it did manage two Academy Award nominations (Art Direction and Music Score), and the material it was based on had a lasting afterlife. Herbert Dalmas’ screenplay was off a novel written six years earlier by Kressman Taylor. *

In 1932, after establishing a successful art gallery in the San Francisco, ‘Martin Schultz’ (Paul Lukas) returns to his native Germany, with his wife and the daughter of his partner and best friend ‘Max Eisenstein’ (Morris Carnovsky), who remains in America. Over the next two years Martin falls under the power & glory spell of the “new Germany”, and his friendship with Max—maintained by correspondence—deteriorates. Max is Jewish, and his daughter ‘Griselle’ (K.T. Stevens), trying to establish herself as an actress, has picked the wrong country at the wrong time.

Lukas’ surprising Oscar for 1943’s topical Watch On The Rhine had been proceeded by fight-Hitler items Confessions Of A Nazi Spy, They Dare Not Love and Hostages, and followed by Uncertain Glory, In Our Time and this effective piece, directed by vaunted production designer William Cameron Menzies. It works effectively, thanks to Menzies thoughtful direction, Rudolph Maté’s excellent sinister-suggestive cinematography and one of Lukas’s best performances, a role that gives him room for a character arc covering warmth & geniality, compromise & vanity, stoic indifference & cornered panic.

This Jew trouble is only an incident. Something bigger is happening.”

Former Group Theater founder and future blacklist target Carnovsky is okay as the German-American friend, hopeful, then confused, finally shattered by his partner’s embrace of a vicious ideology. Better are Stevens as the courageous, entrapped daughter, Carl Esmond as ‘Baron von Friesche’, a smooth Nazi whose connections help seduce Martin, and Peter van Eyck—a good guy for once—as Martin’s son and the girl’s fiancée, who stays in the U.S. with Max. Both Esmond (Austrian) and van Eyck (German) had abandoned their Nazi-plagued homelands for the United States.

Though the overlay of the plot is the fracturing of friends and family that political extremism can inflict, it’s also one of the few films of the time that dealt directly with the Nazi’s anti-Semitism. That aspect was usually grazed in passing, part of the general threat from Hitler and his ilk, probably because, with the exception of Walt Disney and Darryl F. Zanuck, the studio heads were all Jewish, and skittish about heritage flaunting (even in the face of WW2), given there was plenty of prejudice at hand in a democracy. Seen today, with the U.S. hell-bent on ripping its cultural fabric apart with virulent strain of ignorance, greed and viciousness, this long-ago portrayal of how that can play out reminds us “It Can Happen Here”. Forget ‘can’.

With Mady Christians, Emory Parnell, Frank Faylen, Charles Halton. 72 minutes.

* When Kathrine Taylor initially submitted her novella to a magazine, the editors argued her work “was too strong too appear under the name of a woman” and published it as coming from “Kressman” Taylor.  From then on she used that as her professional name. Reprints, foreign translations (banned in Germany–no surprise), were followed by the film, then stage plays.

K.T. Stevens was the daughter of heavyweight director Sam Wood (The Pride Of The Yankees, For Whom The Bell Tolls).

K.T. Stevens, 1919-1994

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s