So Ends Our Night
So Ends Our Night is a 1941 drama starring Fredric March, Margaret Sullavan and Glenn Ford, and directed by John Cromwell. The screenplay was adapted by Talbot Jennings from the fourth novel Flotsam by the famous German exile, Erich Maria Remarque, who rose to international fame for his first novel, All Quiet On The Western Front.
|So Ends Our Night|
|Directed by||John Cromwell|
|Produced by||David L. Loew|
|Written by||Erich Maria Remarque (novel) |
|Starring||Fredric March |
|Music by||Louis Gruenberg|
|Cinematography||William H. Daniels|
|Edited by||William Reynolds|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
Written and filmed in a 1940 America that was still primarily isolationist even as FDR began to meet with Winston Churchill, So Ends Our Night was one of the most explicitly anti-Nazi films to be made in the Hollywood studio system before America's entry into the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Throughout the 1930s, filmmakers had been prevented from making accurate films about the Nazi regime by a Production Board controlled by the isolationist, anti-Semitic Catholic, Joseph Breen, who insisted any criticism of Hitler's Germany and Third Reich was a violation of the Neutrality Act and who frequently consulted with the German consul in Los Angeles, Georg Gyssling, on his approval of upcoming films. Thus it took independent producers David Loew and Alfred Lewin to purchase Remarque's serialized novel on the struggles of three German exiles who have been deprived of their citizenship and hence, passports, under Nazi persecution and are now "forced to roam in an alien world like a hunted beast," as the New York Times reviewer wrote after the film's premiere in February, 1941.
The story begins in 1937 Austria, before the German occupation which would arrive the following year. Josef Steiner (Fredric March) is a middle-aged German veteran who has been an ideological opponent to the Nazi regime from its inception and already escaped from two years in a concentration camp. He's in hiding in a dodgy Austrian boarding house with young Ludwig Kern (Glenn Ford in an early performance), a bewildered 19-year-old German from a prosperous family that was found to have Jewish forebears when the Nazis came to power and now "half-Aryan," are abruptly deprived of their German citizenship and passports, rendered stateless and ordered to leave the country.
The two men are soon picked up and hounded by Austrian officials eager to deport them. Their friendship begins as they share a jail cell with two other hapless exiles (Leonid Kinskey as "The Chicken" and Alexander Granach as "The Pole") and one professional gambler, proud of his "full rights of citizenship". Steiner studies the gambler's card tricks and also befriends the miserable Ludwig. Deported together, they part at the border, Ludwig to search for his parents in Prague, Steiner to double back and live by his wits in Austria.
The characters struggle to find normalcy in an increasingly nightmarish Europe through which they must constantly move. Fredric March's character pines for the wife he's left behind (Frances Dee in a nearly wordless performance) whom his politics have endangered. At one point he dresses as a laborer and follows her in a crowded marketplace, neither of them daring to look at one another, as he begs her to divorce him, which she never does. Erich von Stroheim has a brief role as a German secret agent who attempts to lure Steiner with a new German passport if he informs on his political friends back in Germany.
In Prague, Ludwig literally stumbles on lovely Jewish exile Ruth Holland (Margaret Sullavan) in a cheap boarding house. He recognizes her as a fellow fugitive, but Ruth is hesitant to enter into a new relationship. In flashback, we see her German fiance insult and abandon her when her Jewish identity threatens his career, not caring that it has also forced her to leave university and lose her chemistry degree. The lovestruck Ludwig follows Ruth to Vienna, where she has a chance to resume her chemistry studies with a former professor who also left Germany. While waiting to hear from her, Ludwig visits Steiner, now working as a carnival barker, who in turn hooks him up with a dicey carnival booth job. Ruth quickly loses her new position because she has no passport and finally seeks out Ludwig, who has been writing her at General Delivery. Thrilled to see Ruth again, Ludwig gets beaten up in front of her by a suspicious customer at his booth who has demanded to see his papers, then again by the police. He lands in a Viennese jail with the very same lowlifes who were there at the film's start. Seeing him bloodied, they teach him how to fight and throw a punch.
A beautiful carnie with a crush on Steiner, Lilo (Anna Sten), tells Ludwig Ruth has been deported to Zurich, so Ludwig heads to Switzerland upon his release and finds Ruth staying in the home of a wealthy schoolfriend. When he arrives looking like a bum, they borrow her host's elegant clothes, and have a romantic dinner. Ludwig begins to hope for a better future and Ruth begs him to take her to Paris with him, his next plan for survival - they agree to go together.
Newsreel footage breaks in of the 1938 Anschluss's cheering throngs welcoming the Nazi takeover of Austria. Steiner watches in horror. No longer safe in Vienna, he bids his carnival friends goodbye and, chased by dogs at the border, plunges into a river to escape. Meanwhile, Ruth and Ludwig hike day and night through the Alps to get to the French border. When a Swiss Nazi spy turns in Ludwig, the local gendarme allows him to escape and a friendly doctor visits ailing Ruth in their hideout and orders her to the hospital. Ludwig is once again thrown into jail when he ventures to stand outside her hospital window, but he's let out, she recovers and they head for France.
In Paris, they run into Ruth's former professor, himself now an exile, who tells them Paris is flooded with Austrian refugees from the Anschluss and without work permits, they won't find jobs. Steiner reappears and they all celebrate their reunion with their favorite lowlifes, Chicken and Pole, now in Paris too. At this festive occasion, Ludwig learns from Ruth's slightly tipsy professor that a French professor at the university, Durand, has always been in love with Ruth and would marry her in a moment, thus solving her intractable passport problem. Ludwig realizes this is too good a chance for the stateless Ruth to pass up, but they quarrel when she stubbornly refuses "because I love you, you idiot!"
Construction work shows up for the exiles "no questions asked". The foreman has a letter for Steiner, who learns that his wife is in the hospital with only a few days to live. Over Ludwig's objections, Steiner uses his fake Austrian passport to return to see her one last time. "If I don't see her, I'll simply break," he tells worried Ludwig.
As soon as Steiner heads to Germany, Ludwig is caught at the construction site and sent to a prison on the border, from where he will once again be deported. He writes Ruth to marry Durand so that she'll be cared for. Ruth refuses and rushes off with an idea of how to save him - by threatening to marry Durand and bring scandal down on his family unless his influential uncle helps get Ludwig freed.
Over the border, Steiner is instantly picked up by the Gestapo and interrogated by Von Stroheim's Nazi agent. Steiner promises to name names if he's only allowed to see his wife. He says goodbye at her deathbed, then leaps to his own death rather than informing on his friends.
Steiner has left the young couple what money he had and now they each have passports. Ludwig marvels that he finally possesses the piece of paper that will allow him and Ruth to live like normal people. They mourn Steiner's sacrifice on the train that is taking them to freedom.
- Fredric March - Josef Steiner
- Margaret Sullavan - Ruth Holland
- Frances Dee - Marie Steiner
- Glenn Ford - Ludwig Kern
- Anna Sten - Lilo
- Erich von Stroheim - Brenner
- Allan Brett - Leo Marrill
- Joseph Cawthorn - Leopold Potzloch
- Leonid Kinskey - The Chicken
- Alexander Granach - The Pole
- Roman Bohnen - Mr. Kern
- Sig Ruman - Ammers
- William Stack - Professor Meyer
- Lionel Royce - Barnekrogg
- Ernst Deutsch - Dr. Behr
- Emory Parnell - Weiss
This star vehicle was the first serious feature film of the plight of German exiles, generating excellent word of mouth in Hollywood even before its release because of young Glenn Ford's breakthrough performance, in which he not merely held his own against two high-powered Oscar nominees but stole the picture. Offers started pouring in for him.
United Artists gave it a red carpet premiere at Graumann's Chinese Theater in Hollywood, and Glenn Ford was sent on his first publicity tour: a black-tie gala at the Lincoln Theater in Miami, Fla. with guests from Lucille Ball to Sinclair Lewis and Damon Runyon, and interviews in the Miami Herald.
Roosevelt, running for a third term on the promise of not getting America into the war, welcomed the chance to support a movie which could say all that he could not. The movie had a special screening at the White House on no less an occasion than his birthday on Jan. 30th, followed by invitations for the cast to his annual Birthday Ball that night. He personally praised the film to the overwhelmed 24-year-old, and introduced him to his wife. (Glenn Ford registered as a Democrat the moment he got back to LA)
Finally, in the first week of February, So Ends Our Night opened in New York City at Radio City Music Hall.
Bosley Crowther lauded the film for its brave and difficult subject matter, "told with great poignance and sympathy" as The New York Times' film critic wrote, but criticized it for being "too slow, too solemn" and, in fact, too documentary. Movie-going audiences agreed, though it clearly found some kind of audience, since it made Glenn Ford an overnight sensation when released; girls started mobbing him for autographs for the first time in his life.
Louis Gruenberg, (who trained at the Vienna Conservatory himself), was nominated or the Oscar for Best Dramatic Score, the film's only such nod.
For Glenn Ford, it remained one of his favorite films. Fredric March was also proud of it, and reteamed with his old friend Cromwell for a second film that same year.
Though celebrated at the time, the film has largely fallen into obscurity, possibly due to accusations of subversive Communism leveled against its director and star after World War Two. Fredric March vigorously and publicly defended himself and his wife Florence against the charges; though he was not officially blacklisted, his career never recovered its momentum. John Cromwell, after a long and prolific career helming such classics as Of Human Bondage (1934) and the Oscar-winning home front film, Since You Went Away (1944), was blacklisted from 1951 to 1958, never to return to Hollywood.
Blair and Associates has produced a digital restoration of the film.
- Glenn Ford:A Life by Peter Ford, U. of Wis. 2011, pp. 33-36
- The New York Times, Feb.28, 1941, retrieved at https://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9E05EEDC133DE33BBC4051DFB466838A659EDE
- Glenn Ford, ibid.
- Frederic March - A Consummate Actor by Charles Tranberg, Chapter 11, Section III
- The Films of Fredric March, by Lawrence J. Quirk