Appellate Judge James A. Stewart is defenseless, but has one of those unconquerable spirits.
"For us, the war lasted exactly two hours."
Actually, a war can rage for months or years—even if someone's seemingly conquered—and end up with a surprising victory for the vanquished. It's not a good idea to conquer someone with an unconquerable spirit.
The Moon is Down, adapted from a novel John Steinbeck wrote during World War II, follows a small Norwegian town (pop. 1,126) in its efforts to resist Nazi occupation aimed at controlling its iron mine. In the end, the Nazis discover seemingly defenseless Norwegian towns aren't easily conquered.
The film opens with a dramatic image: an evil hand marches across a map of Norway, as a voice rants sharply in German. There's no translation, but we know its bad news. We then see the Germans laying out their methodical plans to take over the town, one in which "There are no defenses whatsoever." The townspeople know what's coming. Troops are seen parachuting in and marching in imposing columns. Turns out a local shopkeeper was the Nazis' inside man.
Even when the townspeople sing as their neighbors face the firing squad, The Moon is Down makes few personal connections. The film is seemingly more interested in patriotic displays, philosophical debates, and a ripped-from-the-headlines feel. Still, its imagery can be powerful. There's even the occasional human moment, such as when the German leader (Cedric Hardwicke, The Ghost of Frankenstein) prompts the town's soon-to-be hung mayor (Henry Travers, It's a Wonderful Life), to recall Socrates' final speech. In director Irving Pichel's hands, the horrors of war are clearly illustrated without spelling things out.
Presented in standard def 1.33:1 full frame, Fox's MOD (made-on-demand) transfer of the black-and-white film suffers from dirt and scratched, but is reasonably sharp and surprisingly watchable. The Dolby mono track services the dialogue well, but don't expect anything special. There are no bonus features.
The Moon is Down works well as a history lesson: in war, in what we knew at the time, and in patriotic moviemaking. It must have struck every chord during World War II, but definitely loses some impact today. Students of history might not want to buy it, but if you ran across it on TV or streaming sometime, you're likely to stick with it.
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