Sunday 16 October 2016

Movie Review: The North Star (1943)

A pro-Soviet propaganda film intended to whip up sympathy for the war effort against Germany, The North Star (also known as Armored Attack) is a cringe-inducing dud.

It's 1941, and the Nazis are about to invade the idyllic farming village of North Star in western Ukraine, part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Before the shooting starts, five youth from the village embark on a trip to the capital Kiev, including Marina (Anne Baxter), her would-be lover Kolya (Farley Granger), Clavdia (Jane Withers) and Kolya's older brother and conscripted soldier Damian (Dana Andrews).

The travellers don't make it very far: the Nazi's attack with bombing raids, tanks and troops. The village is occupied before it can be burned down. In the face of Nazi atrocities including forcing local children to donate blood, the villagers have to scatter to join the nascent resistance movement.

Produced by Samuel Goldwyn, directed by Lewis Milestone and written by Lillian Hellman, The North Star is unabashed agitprop. Despite the high budget and respected cast, Milestone delivers a painfully bad cinematic experience devoid of any artistic merit.

The first half is preoccupied with portraying Ukrainian villagers living under the Soviet boot as happy simple folks, and it's punctuated by ghastly singing and dancing interludes straight out of amateur high school plays. The fingers-on-the-chalkboard level of irritation is enhanced by inane nationalistic dialogue, ham-fisted delivery and enough over-sugared sentiment to kill a horse.

Once the Nazis make an appearance, the music mercifully stops and the fighting starts. The second half improves, but it's a really low bar to step over. As a story of guerilla warfare and peasants taking up arms, The North Star lacks anything resembling thoughtfulness, nuance or genuine emotion. This is an in-your-face sophomoric effort intended to rally the home front, and Milestone can't even get the basics right: the battle scenes, tactics and consequences are asinine.

Everyone from the children to the old geezers lustily and blindly buys into the die-for-your-country hokum. Given the general level of near unwatchable incompetence, the film boasts a remarkable cast collectively performing at their worst, consumed by Hellman's fatuous prose. Anne Baxter leads the way with one of the many overwrought eyes-dreamily-to-the-stars performances on display. Walter Huston is a local doctor tangling with Erich von Stroheim's Nazi surgeon, while Walter Brennan is a stereotypical crusty farmer-on-a-wagon.

The North Star is not bad because it's propaganda; it's bad because it's a wretchedly awful film.

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  1. Oh, joy. I've got this one coming soon enough. In fact, I've almost pulled the trigger on it a couple of times in the last week.

  2. Keeping in mind that the Nazis were, actually, villains.


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