Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Piña Colada Movie

Robert Taylor is TCM's new Star of the Month for April 2010. His movies are airing in 24-hour blocks starting in prime time on Tuesdays. One of this week's lesser-known selections that's worth a look is Escape, airing tomorrow morning at 7:45 AM ET.

Taylor plays Mark Preysing, an American man whose mother had grown up in Germany and emigrated to America. However, some time before the movie opens, she returned to Germany to sell the old family house. However, Mark stopped hearing from Ma, and he's worried about what happened to her. You see, this is Nazi Germany, where people just disappear (well, a bit more on that later). So, Mark shows up in Germany looking for anybody who might have any information on his mother.

This being Nazi Germany, everybody is reluctant to help him, because they don't want to wind up disappeared themselves. That is, until he meets Countess von Treck (played by Norma Shearer, who gets top billing). She's an American who had come to Germany before the Nazi takeover out of love, having married one of the old Counts. He's since died, and she's a widow, running a school for girls. Mark doesn't understand why she stayed behind when all of these nasty Nazis are running the place, but it turns out that she's fallen in love with one of them, General von Kolb (perennial Nazi Conrad Veidt). Mark has already dealt with this singularly unhelpful Nazi, who clearly knows more than he's letting on.

And that more is that Mark's mother (played by former silent screen star Alla Nazimova) is in one of the concentration camps, awaiting execution. Once we viewers learn this fact, it's fairly predictable where the plot is going to go: Mark is eventually going to fall in love with the Countess, and try to convince her to double-cross the General in order to help Mark's mother escape. Meanwhile, one of the Countess' girl students is going to try to double-cross her, by snitching and telling the Nazis what's going on. All this will be followed by the escape, where our heroes will narrowly miss getting captured by the Nazis.

Predictable, except for the fact that the movie even got made in the first place. Escape was released in 1940, well over a year before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor pushed the US into World War II, and a time when isolationist sentiment still ran quite strong in the US. Escape was based on a book, but while freedom of the press ensured that people could write novels about whatever, the freedom of Hollywood was nowhere near as guaranteed. As I mentioned back in May, 2008, there were people in Congress concerned that Hollywood was trying to push America into the war, enough so to the point that they eventually opened an investigation. The other surprising thing is that Escape was made at MGM. Yes, they also made The Mortal Storm, but this sort of socially conscious movie had generally been the province of Warner Bros.

Escape isn't on DVD, so if you like piña coladas and getting caught in the rain, you'll have to watch TCM's showing.

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