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The Mortal Storm

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The Mortal Storm
Directed by Frank Borzage
Starring Margaret Sullavan
James Stewart
Robert Young
Frank Morgan
Robert Stack
Release date(s) June 14, 1940
Running time 100 min.
Country United States
Language English

The Mortal Storm is a 1940 film from MGM. It was one of the most direct anti-Nazi Hollywood films released before the American entry into the Second World War. It stars James Stewart as a German who refuses to join the rest of his small Bavarian town in supporting Nazism. He falls in love with “non-Aryan” Freya Roth (Margaret Sullavan), the daughter of a Junker mother and a “non-Aryan” father.

Freya and her father are implied to be Jews but the word “Jew” is never used, and they are only identified as “non-Aryans”; in addition, Freya’s half brothers are all members of the Nazi Party. Though it is understood that the film is set in Germany, the name of the country is rarely mentioned except at the very beginning in a short text of introduction. MGM purposely did not mention the name of the country or the religion of Freya’s family because of the large German market for its films, but it was to no avail—the movie infuriated the Nazi government and it led to all MGM films being banned in Germany.

The Mortal Storm was the last movie Sullavan and Stewart ever did together. Sullavan is a young German girl engaged to a confirmed Nazi (Robert Young) in 1933. When she realizes the true nature of his political views, she breaks the engagement and turns her attention to anti-Nazi Stewart. Later, trying to flee the Nazi regime, Sullavan and Stewart attempt to ski across the border to safety in Austria. In the attempt Sullavan is gunned down by the Nazis (under reluctant orders from her ex-fiance, who has tried to spare her, but has been ordered to track her down by his superiors). Stewart, at her request, picks her up and skis into Austria so she can die in a free country.

The supporting cast includes Robert Young (Father Knows Best), Robert Stack (who later appeared as Elliot Ness in The Untouchables), Frank Morgan ( who played several roles including Professor Marvel and the Wizard in The Wizard of Oz), Dan Dailey, Ward Bond, who would make many films for director John Ford, Maria Ouspenskaya (the gypsy from the 1940’s Wolf Man movies), William T. Orr, and Bonita Granville, who was the first actress to play Nancy Drew onscreen.

The film is based on the 1938 novel The Mortal Storm by the British writer Phyllis Bottome.

August 2010


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