Friday, October 25, 2019

Return to Sender

Earlier this year, I purchased Volume 1 of the Noir Archive Collection. Among the movies in the collection that I hadn't watched or blogged about before is Address Unknown, so I recently watched it to do a post on here.

The movie starts off with a pair of friends who are also business associates, running an art gallery in San Francisco. Martin Schulz (Paul Lukas) is telling Max Eisenstein (Morris Carnovsky) that he's going to be going back to their native Germany to look at acquiring artwork. This surprised me, since the movie was released in 1944, at the height of World War II, and how could anybody get back to Germany, much less want to live with the Nazis. But it turns out that the movie begins sometime around 1931 or 1932, so just before the Nazis complete their rise to power.

The two men, in addition to being friends, are about to become related by marriage. Martin's oldest son Heinrich (Peter van Eyck) is in love with Max's daughter Griselle (K.T. Stevens), and plans to marry her. There's only one problem, which is that she's an actress, and wants to pursue her dream of being successful on the stage before settling down to marry. So perhaps if Heinrich could wait a year while Griselle goes off to Germany with Martin and his family. Well, there's another problem, which is that the Eisensteins are Jewish and going back to Germany when the Nazis are about to take over is not particularly advised.

When the Schulzes get to their new house in Munich, Martin is approached by a mysterious Baron von Friesche (Carl Esmond), who seems to serve the sole purpose of trying to infect Martin with Nazi ideology. Why Martin would have believed this stuff is beyond me, but he begins to fall under the Nazi spell, at least far enough to keep his job and position in society, something that alarms everybody around him, especially the Eisensteins. Griselle has even taken on the stage name Stone to hide her Jewish identity. She's even more rebellious, including the New Testament Beatitudes in a stage soliloquy even though Nazi censors ordered the director to remove this line. For this, and the Nazis finding out she's Jewish, she's going to die.

Martin's relationship with her and her father back in America is going to start causing a problem for him, especially when Max starts sending letters that have dimensions of paintings, something the Nazis insist is a secret code. It's thoroughly illegal for coded messages to be sent in Nazi Germany. So Martin writes to Max and tells Max to stop writing, something that the Nazis ought to know if they're opening the letters and reading them to find out that there's a code in them. But Martin keeps getting letters from Max. What's going to happen to poor Martin?

Address Unknown is a movie that I found a bit odd, mostly because I felt like the plot was unrealistic and full of holes. To be fair, part of that is because with the war still going at the time the movie was made, there was bound to be propaganda and a plot that had to be adjusted to fit the propaganda. But everything from Martin's going back to Germany in the first place to his downfall seemed slightly odd to me.

To be fair, however, Lukas does quite a good job with his character study, while the other actors all do a creditable job. I didn't really think of it as a noir, but the look of the movie, with cameraman Rudolph Maté and director William Cameron Menzies, does have a lot of interesting camera angles and shadows to suggest noir.

Overall, I think I'd give a qualified positive review to Address Unknown. But since it's on a box set, I'd give it a higher recommendation than if it were on a higher-priced standalone DVD. One issue, however, is that there are only two spindles, so two of the Blu-ray discs are going to be on one spindle -- there are three discs with three movies each; it's easier to fit three movies on one Blu-ray than one DVD.

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