Norma Shearer has first billing in this movie, but it really belongs to Robert Taylor. He plays Mark Preysing, who is on a desperate search for his mother, Emmy Ritter, in Hitler’s Germany. Mark is given the run around by the government, and finally tries to track down a friend of the family, Fritz Keller (Felix Bressart). Tension keeps mounting as everyone Mark turns to simply cowers in fear. No one can help him for the simple fact that it would put their lives in danger, as well. He happens upon Countess Ruby von Treck (Norma Shearer), an American widow, who becomes the first person to actually give Mark the time of day. She tells him that she will report back to him if she hears any word about his mother. Later in the evening, we find the Countess at home (which she now uses as a finishing school) with her pupils and a Nazi officer. Soon it is revealed that the Countess and the officer have quite the past together, though it seems to me that the Countess is disenchanted by his utter disregard for human life. She questions him about Emmy Ritter, and becomes even more disgusted by his nonchalant answer.
Strangely enough, this film was made a full two years before the U.S. got involved in the war in Germany. It is something one might expect as a propaganda piece during the war, one which demonizes the Nazi party, and rightfully so. I’ve not done my research on the topic, but I can only imagine that the entire cast ended up on Hitler’s blacklist (which included Myrna Loy, who attained the status after calling Hitler out for the mad man he was). As I said before, it is really Robert Taylor’s film, and not only because of on screen time. He did a magnificent job of conveying his frustration to the audience without looking goofy. By that I mean there were no overdramatics, rather it was an unsaid, almost underplayed feeling. This technique also uncovers a theme to the piece, the need to hide all animosity or disagreeance for the sake of one’s own life. As always, Norma Shearer is fabulous. Having been a silent star for so many years, you can read her every emotion in her facial expressions. This works greatly to our advantage, knowing that she cannot speak out against these criminal actions.
This film goes highly recommended, not because it’s a pet favorite of mine. It is truly amazing on all grounds.