The Cross of Lorraine (1943)
The French Escape
With WII raging on Frenchmen from all across the country enlist in the army but their war is short lived when the Nazis swiftly defeat them and France signs a peace treaty with the Germans. When the French soldiers surrender they naively believe that the train they are loaded on will take them home but are left devastated to find themselves taken to a prisoner of war camp. Life in the camp is tough but most of the men such as Victor (Gene Kelly - Viva Knievel!) do their best to stay strong in the face of the barbaric treatment whilst some such as Duval (Hume Cronyn - Off Season) collaborate with the Nazis to get an easier life. When Paul (Jean-Pierre Aumont - The Devil at 4 O'Clock) finds an opportunity to escape he takes some fellow prisoners with them heading for a village which they liberate.
Taken at face value "The Cross of Lorraine" is a simple wartime propaganda movie which portrays all Nazi's as being barbaric whilst the allies are the morally upright ones. It makes it on face value a cliche war movie which reworks the prison of war theme with the only difference being that we have a group of Frenchmen as the focus, although looking through the cast list and you will see a few well known American's in there. That in itself doesn't make it bad, just typical yet for those who enjoy prisoner of war movies will most likely find it moderately entertaining.
But dig beneath the lays of cliche and "The Cross of Lorraine" does have some merit especially when it looks at how the men deal with being in a prisoner of war camp. We see how Duval having decided to sidle up to the Nazis struts around enjoying the perks of working with them and trying to get others to collaborate as well. Whilst we also see how the tough conditions affect the others, frayed tempers cause bust ups between the men which capitulate under the inhuman treatment of the enemy. I wouldn't say that this side is either deep or realistic but it does give it a reason for being rather than just being a cliche war movie.
In a way the most disappointing thing about "The Cross of Lorraine" is that the writing makes the characters ordinary and so despite featuring the likes of Gene Kelly and Hume Cronyn none of them manage to establish believable characters. Instead these characters are played for entertainment especially when it comes to Gene Kelly as Victor.
What this all boils down to is that there is technically nothing wrong with "The Cross of Lorraine" as it is entertaining but it is mostly nothing more than a cliche wartime propaganda movie with some recognizable faces.
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