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Edge of Darkness (1943)

Edge of Darkness (1943)

Directed by Lewis Milestone who won Oscars for Two Arabian Knights (1927) and All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) this William Woods novel was adapted by Robert Rossen (All The King’s Men (1949)). It’s about the struggle against the Nazi occupation in Norway during World War II in the spring of 1942. Despite the fact that it’s primarily a propaganda film it’s a very good drama which features solid performances by several of the more popular Warner Bros. stars in their day including: Errol Flynn Ann Sheridan Walter Huston (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)) Helmut Dantine Judith Anderson (Rebecca (1940)) and Ruth Gordon (Rosemary’s Baby (1968)) among others.

It’s May 28 1942 and a German patrol plane flies over a small fishing community in Norway. Its pilot notices that a Norwegian flag is flying over the garrison in lieu of the Nazi’s flag. He radios this fact to the authorities who dispatch a troop laden boat to the area. Upon investigation the Germans discover that except for the raving cannery owner – Kaspar Torgerson (Charles Dingle) – who they unceremoniously shoot dead the town’s streets are strewn with dead people including their own soldiers. They continue to march through the village to its hotel where they see the remains of a “last stand” and find their occupation commander Captain Koenig (Dantine) at his desk where he’s been shot in the head. The rest of the story is told in flashback:

Koenig relates the details of his situation to a visiting Nazi SS officer: he has 150 men positioned throughout the 800 resident fishing community and though they’ve experienced small forms of resistance at random times over the past 2 years he feels confident that the situation is under control such that he’s applied for a promotional transfer. He lists the names of several leaders of the resistance but says he hasn’t got what he needs to arrest them and his orders are to keep the peace. We learn that fisherman Gunnar Brogge (Flynn); his girlfriend Karen (Sheridan) the daughter of Dr. Stensgard (Huston); hotelier Gerd Blarnesen (Anderson) whose father was killed during the German invasion yet she’s “romantically” pursued by a German officer; shopkeeper Lars Malken (Roman Bohnen); and baker Knut Osterholm (Art Smith) are all resistance leaders (as is Monte Blue who appears uncredited). Gordon plays Dr. Stensgard’s (Huston’s) wife Anna; Nancy Coleman plays Koenig’s kept woman and a local who doesn’t want to get involved. I believe that’s Virginia Christine the Folgers coffee woman who appears uncredited as the Stensgard’s maid. As it turns out the Nazi SS officer is really British and is undercover to tell the Norwegians that arms are on the way and how they’ll be delivered. The college educated Karen is given the task of remembering the complicated signally code.

A town meeting is held in the church to decide what to do once the arms are obtained. Of course its pastor (Richard Fraser) is against violence. Hammer (Tom Fadden uncredited) tells the congregation how he was injured in the massacre that occurred in another similar community not far away. Gunnar calmly leads the meeting making sure each one’s views are heard. Dr. Stensgard doesn’t want to get involved. The old school teacher Sixtus Andresen (Morris Carnovsky) doesn’t have any advice or wisdom to impart. Ultimately however they vote to take up arms against their German occupiers once the time comes. Torgerson who wasn’t at this meeting but senses an uprising is a businessman who wants to keep the peace for the fisherman to continue to work as if nothing has happened such that his cannery can remain open. So he invites his nephew his sister is Anna Johann Stensgard (John Beal) to return from Oslo where he didn’t resist its occupation by the Germans. Obviously Karen is not too happy that her brother referred to as a Quisling (Norway’s equivalent of Benedict Arnold) has come home at such a critical time. She informs the rest of the resistance leaders of the possibility that he will betray them so that encouraged by Torgerson who promises him the cannery is his future when he does he is made to be the fool by Malken who’s somewhat of a boob himself with feelings of self importance.

Since you know where this is leading there isn’t much more to tell except given its propaganda theme that the Germans led by Koenig (played as well as can be expected by Dantine who you’ll probably recognize as the German pilot that Greer Garson’s Mrs. Miniver (1942) must deal with given the one dimensional character he had to play) are shown to be successively more oppressive – burning Andresen’s books committing rape etc. – until a full scale armed revolt is the town’s only recourse. What is particularly noteworthy is Huston’s characterization of the henpecked doctor who is credibly transformed from a pacifist into a patriot during the course of events. The battle scenes themselves are nothing spectacular or unique but they are worthy of the rest of this quality film.

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