Seventh Cross, The (1944) - full review!
Directed by Fred Zinnemann (From Here to Eternity (1953) & A Man For All Seasons (1966)), with a screenplay by Helen Deutsch (Lili (1953)), this above average drama tells a pre-World War II story about Nazi oppression as it follows one man, out of seven concentration camp escapees, trying to find his way to freedom. It's really a story about hopelessness turned to hope as the lead character, George Heisler (Spencer Tracy), driven to despair through torture and abuse by his captors, learns to trust and believe in the goodness of his fellow man through those German citizens who help him along the way.
The stage is set at the beginning of (and throughout) the film using narration provided by one of seven men, Wallau (Ray Collins), who has just escaped from a concentration camp in Germany, 1936. He tells of the difficult time these men had and the negative outlook that their time in the prison gave each of them. Wallau is the first to be caught and tortured by the Gestapo, who want to learn more about the escapees’ leader George Heisler (Tracy). When he refuses to reveal anything to his captors, he is strapped to a tree to die. The Nazis force the camp's other prisoners to prepare six more trees, one for each of the escaped. One by one, each of the men are captured, though only a couple of these are shown, because the film's focus is Tracy's character. Initially, Heisler is so exhausted he falls asleep under a tree. When he awakes, he meets and briefly befriends a little girl who helps him appear as something other than what he is from the air patrols which are searching for him. He then cuts his hand when he vaults a fence, and steals a leather jacket to hide his prison coat. But the theft of the coat is reported and then prevents him from getting a ride from a truck driver (Hugh Beaumont, uncredited), who doesn't want to get involved, to his former hometown where he'd been given an address, by Wallau, of a man from whom he could get further assistance.
Heisler makes it to Meinz and goes to the house of his former girlfriend Leni, whose memory enabled him to survive the camp's brutality. Unfortunately, Leni (Kaaren Verne) is now married; she's not happy to see him and refuses to assist him. He leaves her home distraught, and then witnesses the end of another of his fellow escapees, an acrobat (George Suzanne), in a dramatic police chase across the rooftops. Knowing that his leather jacket has marked him, and remembering that the acrobat had left clothes with a seamstress in town, he visits her (Agnes Moorehead) and tells her that he is there to pick up the clothes for his friend. Though she may know who Heisler is, she doesn't let on. She allows him to change into the suit of clothes, which includes an overcoat, and gives him the name of a doctor who can look at his injured hand. Dr. Loewenstein (Steven Geray) does help him, after advising him that by law he has to tell his patient that he is a Jew. Heisler thinks to himself (narrated by Tracy) about the assistance he has received from these two individuals. He then makes his way to the address Wallau had given him. Unfortunately, the man he was to see has been taken away by the Gestapo already, a neighbor informs him. After leaving there, he is followed and eventually rendezvous with Fuellgrabe (Konstantin Shayne), another of the escapees who has given up and urges Heisler to go with him; Fuellgrabe is tired of running and is going to turn himself in. Heisler starts to go with him and then decides to keep trying.
Sitting in a park, Heisler learns that the neighbor reported him to the authorities, such that they are now looking for a man dressed in a suit and overcoat which match what he's wearing. He racks his brain to come up with a name of someone who may be able to help him and arrives at Paul Roeder. After venturing to Roeder’s home, he decides against involving him but runs into him on the stairs and is warmly greeted by his former friend (Hume Cronyn, who earned an Academy Award Supporting Actor nomination for his performance). Roeder is a factory worker, married to Liesel (Jessica Tandy, his life off screen as well), who's too consumed with raising their many young children to follow politics or know that his friend is a wanted man. He eventually learns of it though, and decides to take great personal risks to help his friend Heisler. Through Roeder, another factory worker friend of his Fiedler (Paul Guilfoyle), and eventually another old friend of Heisler’s named Sauer (George Macready), who's "guilted" into helping by his wife (Katherine Locke), Heisler finally receives a passport and other assistance that had been arranged by some other friends of his (Herbert Rudley, Kurt Katch, among others) that had been trying to locate him. Felix Bressart plays the character that finally brings these items to Tracy's in the hotel where he's met a waitress (Signe Hasso) that also helps him, and provides a brief love interest (which comes across as being rushed and entirely unnecessary).
According to imdb.com, Robert Blake & Connie Gilchrist, among others, appears uncredited in this film as well.