Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Three Comrades

Kolme toverusta / Tre kamrater. US © 1938 Loew's, Inc. PC: MGM. P: Joseph L. Mankiewicz. D: Frank Borzage. SC: F. Scott Fitzgerald – Edward E. Paramore – [Waldo Salt, Lawrence Hazard, David Hertz] – based on the novel Drei Kameraden (1937) by Erich Maria Remarque. DP: Joseph Ruttenberg, [Karl Freund]. Montages by Slavko Vorkapich. M: Franz Waxman, including songs "The Comrade Song", "How Can I Leave Thee", and "Yankee Ragtime College Jazz".
    Starring Robert Taylor (Erich), Margaret Sullavan (Patricia), Franchot Tone (Otto), Robert Young (Gottfried), Guy Kibbee (Alfons), Lionel Atwill (Breuer), Henry Hull (Dr. Becker), Monty Woolley (Dr. Jaffe), George Zucco (Dr. Plauten). 102 min
    A brilliant Cinemateca Portuguesa print.
    Viewed at Orion, Helsinki, 29 March 2005.

The middle entry of Borzage's "German trilogy". The story of three young war veterans who return to the bitter conditions of post-war Germany, struggling with their car repair shop and meeting a radiant woman with a lung disease. The MGM front office and the Production Code Administration ordered all references to Nazi Germany to be erased, and the story was turned back in time to 1920. Remained a basic Borzage story of love and friendship facing fatal adversity in private and social life. Borzage had to fight his own adversity: the heavy glamour of MGM and the ludicrous demands of the Production Code. The story of the "lost generation" was familiar to Borzage (Humoresque, A Farewell to Arms), and he brought his own tender touch to the world of Remarque and Fitzgerald. Margaret Sullavan, the star of all Borzage's "German films", shines most brightly here in delicate close-ups. The three comrades are not that convincing, and some suspension of disbelief is needed. "The most beautiful dying scene of the seventh art" (Hervé Dumont) blends to an image of the two remaining comrades joined by the two ghosts. It's Borzage's answer to the ending of Triumph des Willens, its vision of ghostly comrades joining the ones alive at Nuremberg ("Kameraden die durch Rotfront und Reaktion erschossen / marschiern in Geist in unsern Reihen mit"). The image of the presence of the ghostly comrades was used by Goebbels until late in the WWII (see Syberberg's Hitler).

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