Saturday, September 7, 2019

None Shall Escape

About a year ago, TCM ran a Sunday night double feature of movies with the theme of going after Nazi war criminals after World War II. I had held off on doing a review of None Shall Escape because when I first checked, it was not available on DVD. But it got a release courtesy of Sony's MOD scheme earlier this year, and now I can do a post on it.

The movie, which was released in early 1944, starts off at a war crimes trial in Warsaw some time after the Nazis have been defeated, so it's already a pretty daring premise. On trial is Wilhelm Grimm (Alexander Knox), who as a Nazi commander in a certain portion of Poland. People are going to testify as to his war crimes, starting with the local Catholic priest, Father Warecki (Henry Travers), so cue the flashbacks....

Warecki actually knew Grimm back in the day long before the war began. At the end of World War I, their village had been part of Germany, since Poland was partitioned in the late 18th century and would not become an independent country again until the end of World War I. Warecki was already the parish priest, while Grimm was the town's German teacher. Grimm went off to fight in the Great War, returning home disillusioned and having lost a leg. He had left a fiancée in Marja (Martha Hunt), but decided not to marry her and knocking up another young woman who commits suicide. Wilhelm is forced to beat a hasty retreat and go to Munich where his brother Karl (Erik Rolf) lives.

Karl is the second witness. He saw Wilhelm's turn to Nazism and is horrified by it, being a staunch opponent of the ideology. But Karl's son, named Wilhelm like his uncle but called Willi, likes his uncle and thinks Uncle Wilhelm has the same humanity as everybody else. The Nazis' inexorable march to power continues, and once the Reichstag fire occurs, Karl realizes he has to get out of Germany, planning to go to Vienna (of course not knowing what would happen to Austria five years later). But he doesn't make it to Vienna as Wilhelm has him arrested and sent to a concentration camp.

The final witness is Marja, who details Wilhelm's time as the commander of their village where he was put as commander once the Nazis took over Poland. Wilhelm is brutal to the locals seeing them as an inferior race, while looking to gain revenge on the people he knew earlier. Worse, his nephew (Richard Crane) is all grown up and just as bad as his uncle. But the nephew falls in love with one of the local girls and starts to develop a bit of humanity.

None Shall Escape is another of those movies with a fascinating premise, being set after a war that's still going on while the movie was being made. In some ways that leads to the natural problem of being propagandistic. But for the most part it's no more heavy handed than any other World War II movie made during the war. Alexander Knox is excellent as the embittered man who turns to hate, while everybody else does reasonably well, even those like Travers who I thought was miscast.

I can definitely recommend None Shall Escape to anybody who wishes to watch it.

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