Vincent Sherman started out acting on the stage and was called to Hollywood
when they decided to film a play he was appearing in. That part led
to more small roles, but he probably wouldn't be remembered today if he
didn't start rewriting his lines to make them sound more authentic.
Soon he jumped from acting to being a script doctor. One thing led
to another, and in 1941 he was tapped to direct his first feature film.
Sherman went on to become one of Warner Brothers stable of directors during
the heyday of the studio system and he thrived there. He directed
such notables as Bette Davis, John Garfield, and Joan Crawford, and he
was at the helm of The Adventures of Don Juan, Errol Flynn's last
swashbuckling role. (A production that was plagued by delays and
cost overruns because the star often didn't show up, and when he did, he
was usually drunk.) Though Sherman was blacklisted for a time in
the 50's, he had a long career in television in the 60's and 70's directing
episodes of The Walton, Baretta, and 77 Sunset Strip, among
Sherman's first directing job was a B picture from a script that had
been kicking around Warners for a while. His 1941 movie Underground
lacks big name stars but is a tightly written and produced movie about
Nazi Germany during the WWII.
Set in Nazi Germany, Eric Franken (Phillip Dorn) is the leader of an
underground movement. His organization is trying to inform the German
people about what the Nazi's are really doing through illegal radio transmissions.
Eric's brother, Kurt (Jeffrey Lynn,) is a German solider who is sent home
after losing his arm in battle. Kurt is fiercely loyal to the Nazi
party and thinks that the war is a good thing for Germany. But when
Kurt's girlfriend is suspected of being involved with the underground radio
and questioned by the Gestapo, he starts to question his loyalty.
Convinced that his love would never betray the Fatherland, Kurt agrees
to spy on her, thinking that the information he discovers will clear her.
The exact opposite happens of course, and Kurt is trapped between loyalty
to his country, and that of his family and the woman he loves.
This film was made when Europe was at war but before the United
States entered the conflict, and it is interesting to see how the Nazi's
are portrayed. Martin Kosleck does a wonderful job as the vicious
and cruel Gestapo commander, but the concentration camp scenes, though
they were trying to make it look brutal, are a far, far cry from what really
Although it was a propaganda piece, the movie is still very good, much
better than a lot of war movies made after we had entered WWII. The
script was very tight and though there were only a few action scenes, the
suspense was constant throughout the film. There were several very
good scenes, especially the part where Eric confronts a former underground
leader (played powerfully by Wolfgang Zilzer) who agrees to locate the
underground for the Gestapo in return for being released from Dachau.
Sherman's direction is very good, especially for a first time director
working with a very limited budget. The scene in the concentration
camp looks like something out of a Universal monster movie of the time,
creating an eerie feeling without resulting to violence that surely would
have been cut. Lighting the Nazi guards from below is a simple trick,
but he used it effectively to make them look sinister and evil.
This is a very underrated film, not only interesting propaganda, but
also a good movie.
The two channel mono soundtrack was good for a film of this age.
The dialog was clear, and the level of hiss was very low. Being made
in 1941, there wasn't a lot of dynamic range, but that is to be expected.
There was some distortion in some of the louder areas, and an occasional
dropout, but these were minor.
This DVD was mastered from a very good unrestored print of the film,
and it looks nice for a 60 year old movie. There was some slight
damage to the print, a little dirt and some spots, but it looked much better
than I was expecting. The image was a little soft, and details were
lost in dark areas. The contrast was not particularly strong, but
even with these defects the film looked very good. I think most people
who see this DVD will be very pleased.
Public domain release companies put out bare bones DVDs as a rule.
It's rare to find anything more than a trailer on these budget releases,
but Roan has included a couple of nice bonus features. The first
is a fourteen minute interview (including a long winded introduction by
Lloyd Kaufman) with Vincent Sherman where he talks about being black listed
in the 50's. There is also a second interview Sherman interview where
he discusses how he started in movies as an actor and talks about how he
came to direct.
In addition to a short text piece on the movie, there is also the Radiation
March, an odd PSA about the dangers of pollution, and a trailer for
the movie Shark.
This is a surprisingly good film. This is a propaganda movie,
but it is also a suspensful film with solid acting and direction.
Roan did a very great job with the DVD, putting out a nice looking movie
with some good extras for a very reasonable price. This disc gets
a high Recommendation.