None Shall Escape (1944)


None Shall Escape (1944)It took me a while to understand the structure of None Shall Escape (1944) the words first uttered at the America’s entrance to WWII in 1942. Released two years into the conflict I was confused as to why I was seeing a court of war-crimes in a film released in 1944. I had to check the date to be sure that I wasn’t seeing things before I could really invest in what I can call an oddity of War time propaganda for public consumption. Of course all films released during WWII about the conflict were obviously constructed to stir up support for the forces, boost morale which they did for a few years before the public interest started to wane during the time of this films release.

The previous war film I saw from this period – Sahara (1943) complete with a starry cast lead by Humphrey Bogart and set as the title of the film suggests in the African front. The earlier film has a lighter tone to the film, we only see a few Nazi’s until the closing act of the film. Instead we’re thrown into an idealized future where the war is over, the Nazi’s have been defeated and are being tried for their crimes against humanity. The two leading actors are little known to wide audiences in the B-movie. I know the label means a lower budget so you won’t get the big names of the earlier film. Nonetheless it was an engaging film that held my attention.

Even though after all these years after its first release it feels inaccurate in places. First it was not truly known the extent of the crimes against humanity. It was obviously known that the Nazi’s were antisemitic, but not to the degree that Russian soldiers found them in the concentration camps, or what they went through. It’s very innocent in that respect. It has instead to go on their persecution of what is known or thought to have been known at the time. Building up an image that would ensure support for the troops, what they are fighting for. This is rare film when there is not a single U.S. soldier on-screen. Even in the court-room (not Nuremberg) where we have an American judge whose our introduction to the film after we are told it has been won in the prologue. A hopeful future where justice prevails is projected, the thought of defeat is not an option.

We are witnessing the trial of one Nazi – Willhelm Grimm (Alexander Knox) who with the help of heavy make-up is a senior member who has made his way up since the end of WWI. We are given a short history lesson that begins with the treaty of Versailles up to the early part of WWII. The consequences of the West’s intervention after the Great War as we have learned only lead to Hitler and WWII. Grimm’s portrayed as a broken man returning home to Poland where he taught in a local school, alongside Marja Pacierkowski (Marsha Hunt) who is to marry this changed man, wounded like so many other soldiers he wants to find acceptance but only finds disappointment and resentment.

Through the testimony of three witnesses we learn of the build-up of the Nazi party, Grimms home life and the crimes they committed. Grimm acts as his own defense as the prosecution delivers its evidence in the form of flashbacks away from the camera. It’s not the best quality image, you can see where in places where scenes have been pasted together, which does detract from the overall image of the film. It is however a reminder that this is a forgotten war film of the golden age of cinema. It shows up the budget spent on the film too, looking at the few sets used the actors that you recognise. I only knew Henry Travers myself who played the priest who did his best to stay neutral w=until he couldn’t ignore the persecution to the Jewish community.

It’s not supposed to be as entertaining as Sahara which is meant to rally support more than likely to donate metal or the increase of war bonds. Depicted with characters that we all know. It wasn’t just an American win on-screen, it soon became an allied effort to hold a well in the desert from being thirsty Nazi’s. In 1943 they’re seen very much as the enemy to fight in the present. By 1944 it’s about looking forward to the future when the war’s been won, how do you deal with the enemy. How do you make sure it doesn’t happen again.

In terms of acting there is no stand-out performance, its more about delivering a message to an audience. For the audience to see that once the war’s won we have to deal with the consequences with the hindsight of history in mind. The film ends not on the classic high, all guns blazing, or a  flag flying. We are left with two messages, one from Grimm who is relenting, the Third Reich will rise again, and another from the lead judge warning us of the long job a head to secure peace. Both delivered directly to camera, making sure we can’t ignore the message, breaking the fourth wall to ensure we know we aren’t being entertained, this war, its reality and we can’t ignore that.

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