Time for a new Shamedown, people, and this one was definitely not what I expected. Before we get into that, though, if anyone would like to know what a Shamedown is, the details can be found at the CinemaShame website, and past Shamedowns can be found here. All righty, here we go…
As I said in my initial Shame Statement, the 1943 movie, The North Star was a film I tried to watch years ago on TCM but turned it off after ten minutes because it was so odd seeing a lot of blissfully happy Russians. Also like I said, the Russians in the film are actually Ukrainians, and I can now say I know what comes after the first ten minutes.
The movie opens in a small Ukranian village with the end of the school year at hand. The village is a happy place, with babies being delivered, people taking care of their families, and all the usual ins and outs of a farming community.
After school’s officially out, Damian Simonov (Farley Granger) announces he’ll be walking to Kiev with several of the young people from the village for his vacation, and his family kids him about only wanting to go because Marina Pavlova (Anne Baxter) is also going. Off to the side the radio news forebodingly tells of the Nazis making their way towards the Soviet Union, but no one thinks about it too much..
The group sets off for Kiev, with Damian’s older brother, Kolya (Dana Andrews) along, as he’s finishing up his leave from the Ukrainian air force and is on his way back to his company. Another one of the girls from the village, Clavdia Kerin (Jane Withers) is also there, with a not-so-obvious crush on Damian. On the way, they meet Karp (Walter Brennan) a kindly man from the village who’s on his way to Kiev as well, and hop on his wagon for a ride.
Karp thinks the young people are too soft and insulated from hardship, which, ironically enough, changes very quickly, because while on the road the group is strafed and bombed by German planes. Meanwhile back home, the villagers all band together and swear to become guerrilla fighters. They’ll burn their homes if they see the Germans coming. They won’t let them get anything. And they’ll fight them to the death.
Inevitably, the Nazis show up, the villagers burn their homes, and they set about resisting in any way they can. Marina’s mother has her arms broken for daring to protest the new regime. Kids are used for blood transfusions for the Nazis, which ends up killing many of them. The worst of all is Dr. von Harden (Erich von Stroheim) who carries out the Nazi’s bidding while pretending he’s saving lives.
All the while Karp and the young people are making their way home, fighting Nazis as they go and Kolya is waging his own battle from the air with his crewmates. Retribution is coming for the Nazis, and while it may seem that the villagers get the raw end of the deal, they have their sights set on building a new world where war can never happen again.
The North Star has a lot going for it. Its story and screenplay were written by Lillian Hellman, its music was written by Aaron Copland and Ira Gershwin, the cinematography was by James Wong Howe, and it’s got a terrific cast. It was even made at Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s special request, as he felt Hollywood needed to pay tribute to America’s Russian allies.
Problem is, once The North Star was finished and previewed, it was roundly dismissed by the authorities as pro-Soviet propaganda, idealizing a communist system and collective farming, not to mention the so-called Ukrainians were much too perky and American. Writer Lillian Hellman also hated it because she thought producer Samuel Goldwyn had butchered her script. The public wasn’t enthused about The North Star, either; even though it was nominated for six Oscars, it was also a box office flop.
Goldwyn had tried really, really hard to get good publicity for the film, too, pitching it to his friend, one William Randolph Hearst, who, unfortunately, absolutely hated the film, suppressing as many positive reviews as he could, and they did exist. Other papers such as the New York Times gave good marks, calling the film “heroic.”
The years since haven’t been kind, either. The film was chopped up pretty badly in the 1950s, repackaged, and retitled Armored Attack. According to TCM, the original version wasn’t seen by audiences again until 1976. While it’s available on DVD, streaming copies tend to look and sound pretty lousy.
I have to say that I agree with the detractors of this movie in that while there are a lot of positives, it’s just not realistic to how the Ukranians probably were back then. While I have no doubt there were a lot of brave souls among them, the characters are definitely too American. For one thing a Soviet would have probably weighed his words more carefully before speaking.
On the other hand, it was pretty myopic of everyone involved to supposedly set out to pay tribute to the Soviet fight against the Nazis, and then get offended when The North Star portrayed its subjects in a favorable light. Really? What were they expecting?
Still, the film has value as a time capsule from the Second World War, which saw a lot of films make commentary about its many intricacies but not every movie succeeding.
Now for a bit of business. Since I forgot to tag in someone for the Pick My Movie Tag last month, we’re going to make up for it here. Without further ado, the nominees are…
- Erica from Poppity Talks Classic Film
- Gill from Realweegiemidget Reviews
Their mission, should they choose to accept it, is to review a movie that’s part of a franchise or series, preferably a film they haven’t seen yet. If needed, the Pick My Movie Tag rules and a handy-dandy banner can be found here.
Okay, my entry for Brian’s Favorite Stars in B-Movies Blogathon will be up Sunday. Thanks for reading, all, and as always I hope to see you then…
The North Star is available on DVD from Amazon, and is also free to stream for Prime customers.
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4 thoughts on “Shamedown #3: The North Star”
Thanks for the tag, consider me in with Omen III. Looking forward to this.
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Awesome, that’s great!
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Maybe it’s because I know about the atrocities the Nazis proceeded to perpetrate on the Ukrainian people (such as perfecting their mobile gas chambers by using them on Ukrainian civilians to experiment with how well they would work), or maybe it’s just because I like Dana Andrews a whole lot, but I love the portrayal of plucky, hopeful Ukrainians fighting the good fight.
Maybe it also works for me because Ukrainians have claimed for themselves a sort of national image of being happy-go-lucky, yet indomitable and stalwart, and that comes through pretty well here.
Anyway, this isn’t a huge favorite for me, but I like it well enough to have seen it multiple times.
Yeah, I was pleasantly surprised. Dana Andrews is fantastic. I just wish Amazon’s print hadn’t looked so fuzzy–in some scenes the actors’ faces look like blobs.