Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Search

Over the weekend, I watched The Search off of my DVR, having recorded it during Summer Under the Stars when there was a day of Montgomery Clift's movies. It was released to DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, and can be purchased at Amazon, although surprisingly, the TCM Shop has it listed as being on backorder. (Other Warner Archive movies aren't listed as being on backorder.)

The scene is Germany, 1946. The Allies have won World War II and are occupying Germany, and also dealing with all the problems that the war caused. Specifically, there are a lot of refugees from those people who survived the concentration camps, and most tragic of all are the children, most of whom probably lost their parents. Mrs. Murray (Aline MacMahon) works for the UNRRA, the United Nations agency dealing with the refugee problem, and finds that a lot of the children are terrified, simply because any time they see somebody in uniform, they immediately think concentraton camp guard. One young refugee (Ivan Jandl) seems to have no name and doesn't say much of anything, so they can't even figure out what his native language is. And then, when the UNRRA is shuttling children from the reception center to their next refugee camp, this kid and one of his friends make a break for it. The other kid drowns but this kid escapes, although the authorities see his hat floating on the water so they presume he drowned too.

Enter Ralph Stevenson (Montgomery Clift). He's a GI working with his superior Fisher (Wendell Corey), waiting to be demobbed because he's got a good engineering job waiting for him back in the States. He spots this lone little kid, and takes him in. It's difficult at first, since the kid won't speak at all, and wants to make an escape attempt every time he gets the chance. Eventually, though, Ralph begins to form a bond with the kid, whom he names "Jim", and even hopes he could take the kid to the States with him, although there's all sorts of red tape inherent in that.

Meanwhile, there's Mrs. Maliková (Jarmila Novotná). She survived the Holocaust and lost her husband and daughter, but is certain that her son survived. So she's been going from one refugee camp to another, looking for that son. Now, of course, we know that the kid survived. The name Karel Malik is briefly mentioned in the opening sequence, while the movie wouldn't be focusing so heavily on "Jim" having survived if he weren't in fact Mrs. Maliková's son. And we can also presume that the two are going to get together in the end, mostly because if the movie had any other ending, the audiences would have rioted.

So, as many movies in other genres (romantic comedies), we know where the journey is going to wind up. Watching this one is about how the movie gets to that ending, not what the ending is. And in that regard, the movie succeeds in spades. Montgomery Clift does well as the nominal star, even though we don't see him until almost a third of the movie has gone by. He was Oscar-nominated, even though I don't think the role has him do enough for that. Aline MacMahon really deserved a Supporting Actress nomination, although she didn't get it. I think she's even better than Clift, playing a woman who has a fairly thankless job of dealing with hordes of traumatized children and trying to find a future for them. It's a job that could harden anybody, and MacMahon shows the right mix of weariness and tenderness. Best of all is young Ivan Jandl. He wasn't a professional actor, and he's never cloying. It's a naturalistic and believable performance, and one that got Jandl a special juvenile Oscar.

One other thing worth noting is that a good portion of the movie was filmed on location in the bombed-out parts of Germany, just a few years after the end of the war. It was one of the first movies to do so, although this would happen several more times over the next few years before a lot of the ruins disappeared.

All in all, The Search is a movie that's highly worth watching.

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