The Search is a 1947 (released in 1948) Swiss-American film directed by Fred Zinnemann which tells the story of a young Auschwitz survivor and his mother who search for each other across post-World War II Europe. It stars Montgomery Clift, Ivan Jandl, Jarmila Novotná and Aline MacMahon.

The Search
The Search poster.jpg
Directed byFred Zinnemann
Produced byLazar Wechsler
Written byRichard Schweizer (also story)
David Wechsler (also story)
Paul Jarrico
Montgomery Clift
Betty Smith
StarringMontgomery Clift
Aline MacMahon
Jarmila Novotná
Wendell Corey
Ivan Jandl
Music byRobert Blum
CinematographyEmil Berna
Edited byHermann Haller
Distributed byLoew's, Inc.
Release date
  • March 23, 1948 (1948-03-23)
Running time
105 min.
CountryUnited States

Many scenes were shot amidst the actual ruins of post-war German cities, namely Ingolstadt, Munich, Nuremberg, and Würzburg.[1] Filming took place between June and November, 1947, initially on location in Germany, before the cast and crew went to a film studio in Zurich, Switzerland, to film the interior scenes. Although released in the United States in March, 1948, it was not released in Britain until May 1950. Its European Premiere was held at the Empire cinema, Leicester Square, London, England, on Wednesday, November 2, 1949, in aid of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Her Majesty Queen Mary attended the premiere. Ivan Jandl was given a special juvenile Academy Award for his performance. By the time this was announced, in March 1949, he had returned to his home in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and the communists had taken over the government. They would not allow Ivan to travel to the United States to collect the Oscar and the Golden Globe he had also received for his performance, so they had to be taken to him. The film's director, Fred Zinnemann, accepted the Oscar on Ivan's behalf at the Academy Awards ceremony.


During the Allied occupation of Germany, efforts are underway to rebuild the shattered country and reunite divided families. Trains transport homeless children (Displaced Persons or DPs), who are taken by Mrs. Murray and other United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration workers to a transit camp in , where they are fed and protected. The next morning, UNRRA officials begin the challenging process of identifying the children and reuniting them with their families—if they are among the survivors.

A young boy named Karel responds "Ich weiß nicht" ("I don't know") to all questions. He grew up in a well-to-do Czech family. The Nazis deported his sister and their father, a doctor, while the boy and his mother were sent to a concentration camp. Karel bears a tattoo number A24328, and it is suggested that the A stands for Auschwitz. (In fact, tattooed numbers were only given in Auschwitz/Birkenau, and the "A" did not indicate the location.) They were separated, and after the war Karel survived by scavenging for food alongside other homeless children.

The next day, the children are loaded into trucks and ambulances for transfer to other camps. The children in Karel's group are terrified at first because the Nazis often used ambulances to asphyxiate victims, but eventually they enter the vehicle. During the trip, the children panic at the smell of exhaust fumes. Karel's friend Raoul forces open the back door and children scatter in all directions. Karel and Raoul try to swim across a river to escape from UNRRA men. Raoul drowns, but Karel hides in the reeds.

Later, Karel encounters Steve, an American Army engineer who cares for him. Because Karel cannot recall his name, Steve calls him Jim. Steve teaches the boy English and begins the very long process that will eventually bring the boy to America to live with him.".

When Jim sees another young boy interacting with his mother, he starts remembering his own mother and thebplacd where he last saw her, through a fence in the concentration camp. He runs away one evening, thinking that the fence is nearby. Jim finds a fence at a factory, but cannot find his mother among the workers going home. Steve eventually finds Jim and tells him that his mother is dead (Steve has reason to believe she was gassed when she arrived at Auschwitz.) He also lets Jim know that he is trying to adopt him and take him to America to start a new life there.

As it turns out, Karel's mother, Mrs. Malik, is alive. In a parallel story, she has been searching for her son. By chance, she has been working for Mrs. Murray at the same UNRRA camp where her son was originally processed. After a while, she resigns to resume her nearly hopeless search for Karel. Mrs. Murray begs her to stay: She is so good with the children.

That same day, Steve takes the boy to the UNRRA camp before leaving for America. He hopes to send for the boy once the paperwork is completed. Mrs. Murray remembers the boy. Suspecting that Jim is Karel, she hurries to the train station to bring Mrs. Malik back, but the train has already left. Then, she sees Karel's mother walking toward her with the latest trainload of displaced children. She saw them being unloaded from a train, changed her mind and decided to stay.

At the UNRRA camp, Steve tells Jim to join the crowd of new arrivals. Mrs. Malik bids the children follow her. Jim walks past without recognizing her. But Mrs. Malik swings around and calls, "Karel!", the boy and his mother are reunited, in an emotional climax, as Mrs. Murray and Steve look on.


Awards and nominationsEdit

Academy AwardsEdit




  • 9th Venice International Film Festival special OCIC Commendation. The OCIC jury gave this commendation because "by its inspiration and its quality, this film contribues to spiritual progress and the development of human values". OCIC critic Johanes wrote that this film excelled in emotional power.[2]




Bosley Crowther of The New York Times gave the film high praise, calling it, "an absorbing and gratifying emotional drama of the highest sort".[3] Crowther thought that Clift got "precisely the right combination of intensity and casualness into the role".[3] Clint Eastwood singled out Clift's performance as the one that had the greatest influence on his own acting career.[4]

Despite the critical acclaim, the film did not perform well financially.[5]

Anne Helen Petersen, writing for The Hairpin in 2012, commented that the film is "mostly forgotten today".[4]

Leonard Maltin gives the picture 4 out of 4 stars, saying that the “poignant drama...[is] Beautifully acted and directed.”

Radio adaptationEdit

Theatre Guild on the Air presented The Search March 9, 1952. The one-hour adaptation starred Montgomery Clift and Fay Bainter.[6]


A remake of the same name was released in 2014, moving the action to the Second Chechen War. The film was written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius and stars Bérénice Bejo and Annette Bening, among others.


  1. ^ "Filming locations for The Search (1948)".
  2. ^ Johanes, "The Venice Film Festival", p.33, in International Film Review, Brussels, 1949.
  3. ^ a b Bosley Crowther (March 24, 1948). "The Search". The New York Times ( Retrieved 2008-04-26.
  4. ^ a b Anne Helen Petersen. "Scandals of Classic Hollywood: The Long Suicide of Montgomery Clift". The Hairpin. Retrieved 2016-09-24.
  5. ^ Hift, Fred (February 20, 1957). "Hard to Come in Offbeat". Variety. p. 3. Retrieved June 10, 2019 – via
  6. ^ Kirby, Walter (March 16, 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 44. Retrieved May 23, 2015 – via  

External linksEdit