Cowardly Charles finds Courage
This will probably offend some people but even taking its age into account "This Land Is Mine" is not a good movie or should I say the first 70 minutes of it isn't very good. It is a propaganda movie, an attempt to empower the audiences with courage and highlight the evil of the Nazi's as they removed freedom. But unfortunately for the first 70 minutes it does it in such a forced and wordy manner that it feels like you are being lectured. But then there is the final 30 minutes which gets it right, delivering a rousing speech and a performance from Charles Laughton which makes up for his uneasy performance during the first 70 minutes.
Somewhere in occupied Europe, timid school teacher Albert Lory (Charles Laughton - They Knew What They Wanted) finds life difficult as he is mocked by his students due to the fact as a grown man he still lives with his mother who molly coddles him. And his timidness causes problems as he is secretly fond of neighbour and fellow teacher Louise Martin (MMaureen O'Hara - The Black Swan) who is due to marry local businessman George Lambert (George Sanders). But with the Nazis cracking down in the town especially with various sabotage attempts Albert finds himself in the midst of all this trouble when George informs on Louise's brother Paul (Kent Smith) who is part of the resistance and behind all the trouble.
So my trouble with "This Land Is Mine" is that for the first 70 minutes it feels so forced that it now borders on the patronising. Now that may not have been the case 70 years ago when it came out but now it makes it feel almost amateurish and a distraction from the simple storyline. That simple storyline is partly about the cowardly Albert who through a chain of events discovers what courage means but we also have the storyline which sees him firstly accused of informing on Paul and then for the murder of Louise's boyfriend George.
The problem is that everything about "This Land Is Mine" is wordy so this first half is full of speeches which spoon feed us with everything from how hard it is to get milk to how evil the Nazis are and more annoyingly telling us stuff that has happened but not showing us. It becomes all very forced and heavy handed as it basically preaches about the evil and whilst I am sure in 1943 this worked it now makes it feel amateurish. The tone also is part of the problem because in the midst of all this preaching we have Charles Laughton playing Albert as a bit of bumbling fool which doesn't really work with him being a teacher. There is almost something jokey about it all especially with him being sweet on Louise but it feels wrong.
But then we get the last 30 minutes and that is a very different matter to the first 70 as it really gets it spot on. Oh it's still wordy and preachy but we get to hear and witness a couple of really powerful, heartfelt speeches about being courageous and the price of freedom and it suddenly finds its heart. And it finds it heart through Charles Laughton putting aside all the attempts to make Albert a bumbling fool and delivering a powerful few scenes. It's such a shame that for 70 minutes "This Land Is Mine" feels forced because if it had managed to deliver the naturalness of the final 30 minutes through out it would have been great.
Now Charles Laughton is the star of the movie, there may be some nice supporting performances from George Sanders and Kent Smith but he is the focus. The only time Laughton doesn't command a scene is when he shares it with a woman and sadly whilst Maureen O'Hara's beauty grabs your attention her character of Louise barely gives her anything to do other than be beautiful. It is a different matter when it comes to Una O'Connor as Albert's mother because her dominating, feistiness out does Laughton every time they share the screen.
What this all boils down to is that the last 30 minutes of "This Land is Mine" is memorably great with a powerhouse speech from Charles Laughton. Unfortunately the first 70 minutes now feels uncomfortably forced and too wordy as it preaches about the evil Nazis but doing so in an almost lecturing manner.