Friday, September 25, 2020

The Mortal Storm

Frank Borzage's The Mortal Storm begins innocuously enough. The family and students of professor Viktor Roth (Frank Morgan) celebrate his birthday. During a small gathering that evening, his student Fritz Marberg (Robert Young) announces his engagement to Viktor's daughter Freya (Magaret Sullavan). And Adolf Hitler is sworn in as chancellor of Germany.

Like a switch, the tone of The Mortal Storm gets darker. The respect for Professor Roth turns into contempt as his peers and students fully embrace Germany's new rule. Freya breaks off her engagement to Fritz, preferring the company of family friend Martin Breitner (James Stewart). And the small town they reside in begins to strain amid political tensions.

To no surprise, The Mortal Storm resulted in MGM's entire library being banned in Germany despite the studio making it vague about where the film is actually set. That being said, it was certainly daring to tackle the political atmosphere of the time. You certainly don't see anyone do something that daring nowadays.

In contrast to his earlier film Three Comrades, Borzage keeps the political message of the source novel in The Mortal Storm. Again, to make this during that time period was brazen to say the least. As Casablanca would do three years later, it effectively showed that Nazis were (and frustratingly still are) nothing more than fearmongering bullies.

The Mortal Storm is unnerving to watch eighty years later knowing that such attitudes still exist in some people. To judge someone on aspects they have no say in (i.e., race, gender, heritage) is far from the best way for society to run. What would future generations think of such backward thinking?

My Rating: ****

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