(This is a repost of an article from a few months ago. It seems timely now.)
|A Nazi book-burning|
Perhaps it’s time to look again at this great anti-Nazi film from 1940. The Mortal Storm begins to look like a warning cry from the past that we ignore at our peril.
|A happy family party for Professor Roth|
|Singing the praises of the leader. Or not.|
Martin and Freya are aghast to see their friends and brothers take part in this ritual.
Freya attempts to remonstrate with him and is told,
|Freya doesn't conceal her anger|
As things continue to change, Fritz’ ideas about women’s place seems to be the new norm. At the university, girls are suddenly banished from classes, to be replaced with row upon row of uniformed, hostile youths in Nazi uniforms who will accept only the rigidly doctrinaire views of their leader. Professor Roth, who is an expert on blood groups, is now being pressured to declare that “Aryan” blood is different, and purer, than “non-Aryan” blood. Science is being replaced with “alternate facts.” But since this is not true, he cannot say it — so the Nazi students stage a walkout, and soon Professor Roth is dismissed from his proud position. As he leaves the university where he spent so many years, he witnesses an organized book-burning, with volumes by Freud, Heine, Thomas Mann, and Einstein — any thinker who challenges the worldview of the leader — being tossed into the flames as the crowd chants mindlessly, “We burn you! We burn you!” The professor sees that his stepsons and Fritz, their lifelong friend, are part of this crowd, their eyes glazed, their faces red in the firelight. He passes on. The intellectual life of the great university that he loved has ended.
Freya breaks off her engagement to Fritz. He is angry and pained; it seems he really does love her, as far as he can. But he is also in love with the mystical dream of racial superiority and the “natural” right to rule the world. Freya firmly tells him it’s all over, and he storms out, simmering with resentment
|Stewart, Sullavan, and Ouspenskaya|
“I’m so ashamed,” she says. The boys are more concerned with losing face in the eyes of their cronies than their mother and sister, and decide to leave their parents house for good. Professor and Mrs. Roth are distressed, but Freya angrily tells them to get out.
|Otto and Erich threaten Martin|
The family’s disintegration gathers speed; Professor Roth has written a textbook about blood groups, and plans to go to a conference in Vienna (which is in Austria, and not part of the Third Reich — yet) to lecture on the subject. But he never arrives, and never returns from this trip. Mrs. Roth and Freya are frantic with worry. They are unable to find out anything about what has happened to him. Finally Freya approaches Fritz, who is now a minor official. She’s willing to swallow her pride to plead with him for information about her father; finally, apparently feeling a touch of remorse, which he strives to conceal, Fritz tells her that Professor Roth has been arrested for denigrating the “alternative facts” preferred by the leader and sent to a concentration camp.
|Freya begs Fritz for news of her father|
And here a word should be said about Robert Young’s performance as Fritz, which is brilliant. His conflicting emotions, the war between self-importance and shame, the initial idealism turned to mindless obedience to the leader — even when he is asked to do what he would never have dreamed of doing a few years earlier — are clear to see. Fritz is in a constant state of struggle; his actual love for Freya has to be crushed once she gives her allegiance to her non-Aryan father, yet he cannot crush it.
|Frank Morgan as Prof. Roth|
From this point, the plot snowballs; soon they hear of Professor Roth’s death in the camp. There is nothing to keep what's left of the family in Germany. Mrs Roth, Freya, and Rudy make plans to leave the country. But when they reach the border with Austria, their luggage is searched and Professor Roth’s unfinished manuscript -- containing facts contrary to the leader's "sacred vision" -- is found in Freya’s suitcase. She is detained in Germany as her mother and brother cross the border into Austria, waving goodbye out the train window.
But Martin is in Austria, having helped the teacher Mr. Werner escape through a secret pass through the mountains that only he knows. And he arrives to rescue Freya. As they prepare to ski through the steep ravine that will take them to freedom. Freya's former fiancee Fritz and her half-brothers Otto and Erich are meeting with their superiors. The Nazis have discovered Martin's plan, and are determined to stop them. Fritz requests that he be relieved of the responsibility, saying that Freya and Martin were once his closest friends. His commander says that that is why he is being assigned this task -- he must choose between his personal loyalty and his leader. Fritz obeys.
|Fritz is ordered to hunt Freya and Martin down|
Martin and Freya leave via the secret pass but they are followed by a posse of guards, led by Fritz. Their journey is strenuous and harrowing, and they are near the Austrian border when one of the guards takes a shot. Freya falls. Martin manages to carry her across the border but it is too late.
Fritz is seen meeting with Otto and Erich. He tells them what happened, and, faced with their stunned expressions, cries "It was my duty!" Otto and Erich, shocked, disagree sharply, and Otto runs from the building, apparently heading for Austria to find his mother and stepbrother. The family has totally shattered. Family loyalty, friendship, love, and trust have been destroyed.
Seeing people surrender their own moral judgement to doctrines that civilized men and women know are wrong, give themselves over to predjudice, injustice, and outright cruelty, we ask ourselves, "How could they do it? How could the kill every good impulse in themselves, and do such vile things?" This is how.