So Ends Our Night

SO ENDS OUR NIGHT, a fine drama from 1941, did not, apart from applause for its actors, make much of a stir when it came out, placing just 101st at the box office. Though beautifully produced (Albert Liewen and David L. Loew) with striking production design from William Cameron Menzies and sensitive direction from John Cromwell, the downbeat storyline failed to draw the audience its subject matter warranted, even when bolstered by popular stars. It later fell into “public domain”, and Cromwell’s post-war blacklisting may have worked against renewed interest. Decent prints are hard to come by: it’s well worthy of restoration. Talbot Jennings, lauded for previous adaptations (Mutiny On The Bounty, Romeo And Juliet, The Good Earth) wrote the script from Erich Maria Remarque’s novel “Flotsam”.

Set in the two years prior to WW2’s 1939 eruption, the plot follows the plight of refugees from Nazi Germany’s political and ethnic persecution. Prison and likely death await them at home (where their families are trapped); minus passports, they cycle repeatedly through one nearby country after another before being ejected by authorities, sometimes with sympathy, often with disdain. Among those who forge bonds of comradeship are ‘Josef Steiner’ (Fredric March), concentration camp escapee whose wife is still in Germany; young ‘Ludwig Kern’ (Glenn Ford), part-Jewish, and Jewish exile ‘Ruth Holland’ (Margaret Sullavan). As the reach of tyranny tightens, their assorted escapes from one predicament to the next become increasingly perilous.

Superbly acted, distinguished by the many production details impressively recreating the settings and moods of Austria, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland and France: Menzies made over 1,000 sketches outlining the action taking place on 138 sets. Laced with fleeting passages of hope and humor as humanity doggedly holds on in dire straits, it carries considerable emotional impact, especially given what followed in its wake. Though March and Sullavan were draws, the material was seemingly too bleak for widespread appeal, and may have felt overly familiar: Sullavan had already starred in two powerful anti-Nazi heartbreakers, Three Comrades and The Mortal Storm. It marked a notable career jump for 24-year old Quebec native Glenn Ford, who pulled notice and praise for his excellent work, more than holding his own with the established stars.

Louis Gruenberg’s well-turned music score pulled the movie’s sole Oscar nomination. Ambitious 27-year-old Stanley Kramer was a production assistant. The Internet Movie Data Base gives the budget as $401,000, which seems shy, given the meticulous care evident on screen. Cogerson puts the gross at $2,400,000.

Remarque’s 1939 novel ran 448 pages, Jennings script translates it to 117 minutes. With Erich von Stroheim, Frances Dee, Anna Sten, Leonid Kinsky, Alexander Granach, Roman Bohnen, Sig Ruman,  Philip Van Zandt, Bernard Gorcey.

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