Suggested late '30s/early '40s flicks set against the coming of WWII?

I’m interested in ones along the subject lines of Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent, Saboteur, or The Mortal Storm, a 1940 drama with Jimmy Stewart (and a great movie). Dopers?

Well, Casablanca is set in December, 1941, and at one point Rick drunkenly and depressingly asks Sam (paraphrased from shaky memory):

Rick: If it’s December, 1941, in Casablanca, what time is it in New York?
Sam: My watch stopped.
Rick: They’re sleeping. They’re sleeping all across America.

The movie is evidently set in the first week of December 1941, and Rick laments that America has remained neutral. I have to admit, foreshadowing of historical events is usually heavy-handed and preachy, but in this case, Rick seems slightly embittered at his coutry’s neutrality, while (refreshingly) not making any obvious comments like “Boy, I wish them Japs would attack us and give us an excuse!”

It turns out, his walking away with Renault at the end of the movie is fitting, since in a few days, Pearl Harbor will be attacked and Rick (if he’d stayed in Casablanca) would technically become an enemy alien. It does make me wonder what happened to Sam, though.

Idiots Delight and To Be or Not To Be are two of the best.

Watch On the Rhine (1943; wr. D. Hammett & Lillian Hellman and based on her 1941 play; Bette Davis, Paul Lukas). Davis, her German husband (Lukas), and their three children return to live with Davis’ family in Washington after having conducted anti-Nazi Underground activities, but this is a confrontation that isn’t over until the Gestapo says it’s over… Supposedly the first American movie that explicitly warned against the growing threat from Germany, using the word fascism, identifying the Nazi ideology as the ugly monstrosity that it was, and using a resistance figure as a hero.

Sabotage (1936; Sylvia Sidney, Oscar Homolka, John Loder; dir. Hitchcock). A young wife suspects that her continental husband is a Nazi-aligned saboteur. Set in pre-war London, with wonderful characterizations and classic set-pieces of suspense (the planting of the bomb; a deadly confrontation over dinner).

The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1971; Vittorio De Sica, dir.). Upper-class Italian Jews enjoying life in the last elegaic days before they’re deported to German-run camps. Very sad, but with lovely cinematography and actors, like Dominique Sanda.

Cabaret (1972; Liza Minelli, Michael York, Joel Grey, Marisa Berenson; dir. Bob Fosse). The classic musical about the naughty cabaret demimonde in prewar Weimar Germany, before the jackboots shut it all down.

1900/Novecento (1976; De Niro, Depardieu, Lancaster, D. Sutherland, D. Sanda; dir. G. Bertolucci; D.P. Vittorio Storaro). Sprawling, discursive epic set from 1900-1945 in Italy. Orig. 360 minutes long; issued in various lengths since.

The Sound of Music. :smiley: Well, it was set in Austria before, during, and immediately after the Anschluss.

Set during the war (or possibly so) but worthwhile, and perhaps even still pertinent to the OP’s interests:

No Regrets for Our Youth (1946; Kurosawa, dir.). O.K., technically this is set during WWII, but the whole story is about a small circle of free-spirited (and implicitly anti-war, IIRC) college-aged friends in rural Japan, and the life-altering choices that a young woman makes.

The White Rose/Der Weisse Blume (1983; dir. M. Verhoeven). German college students learn of the death camps and print and distribute leaflets exposing the Holocaust; most of the students are caught by the Gestapo and executed. Based on a true story.

Passage to Marseilles (1944; dir. M. Curtiz; D.P. James Wong Howe; Mus. Max Steiner; H. Bogart, C. Rains, S. Greenstreet, P. Lorre). The neglected brother to Casablanca (the only name above not connected to the better-known classic is that of the D.P.). Adventure flick about helping the French Resistance during the war.

Radio Days (1987; dir. W. Allen; Mia Farrow leads a large cast). I’m not actually sure during what years exactly this is supposed to be set, but one of the great scenes features a young Woody manque spotting a German sub off of Coney Island. May well have been partly set before the war.

Pimpernel Smith (1942; dir. & stars Leslie Howard). WWII recasting of the classic “Scarlet Pimpernel” hero as a fantasy rescuer of anti-Nazi refugees from occupied France. Seems to be set in the interregnum period between Nazi invasion of France and Germany’s declaring war against Great Britain (although I could be wrong about that), because the plot has an archeology professor leading his (male) students on a field trip on the continent – which probably wouldn’t have been allowed after the formal outbreak of the war between Germany and Britain.

Eve beat me; To Be or Not to Be should be at the top of your list.

I also really love This Land Is Mine. Although technically it takes place during the German occupation of France, the setting is so provincial and so nearly irrelevant to the war as a whole (or so it would seem) that it engenders more a feeling of foreboding and imminent war than of active wartime.

Also, All Quiet on the Western Front, though made in 1929 and so unrelated to WWII, is interesting in that its protagonists are German soldiers, portrayed very sympathetically, and it’s impossible to watch it without extrapolating forward in time to when such sympathetic portrayals will become unthinkable. There’s a naive innocence that hindsight afford this film that adds a very interesting, somehow more tragic, dimension.

Scrivener, you magnificent bastard! That’s the kind of motherlode I was hoping for. (I just missed Watch on the Rhine a few weeks ago on TCM. :mad: )
Bryan, Eve, lissener, many thanks. Though I wasn’t looking for comedies, I will have to check out To Be or Not to Be.

Most of what’s been posted focuses on pre-war Europe. 1945’s Blood on the Sun has James Cagney as a journalist bristling at Japanese efforts to feed him propaganda pre-war.

Two more movies made pre-war come to mind as being of possible interest, though they’re short on the kind of intrigue you may have in mind. 1938’s Charlie Chan at the Olympics has some now darkly amusing interactions between Charlie and the gruff but helpful Berlin police as he chases murderous (and conveniently apolitical) international spies. 1936’s Things to Come is of interest for its early scenes that give some idea of what people at the time expected a world war would be like.

Scrivener – The IMDB listing for Pimpernel Smith indicates that it’s set in mid-1939 (pre-war), and that Smith is helping refugees escape from Germany. Was your reference to occupied France just hazy memory, or does the film feature some interaction with unsympathetic French authorities?

** Confessions Of A Nazi Spy ** was supposedly based on a true story.Set in USA '39 it has Eddie G as the investigator uncovering a spy ring working under German/American * Bund * cover.The portrayal of those * Bundists * were fairly accurate from tales I was told as a youth.

See it in a double feature with **The Stranger **,and you can see a postwar characterization of Robinson’s COANS investigator.Sort of a postwar mopping up by the same man,tho not intended to be.They just strike me that way.

BTW-if you’re going to watch ** Idiot’s Delight **,be forewarned Gables’ song and dance bit was ** not ** supposed to be played for laughs like Peter Boyle in ** Young Frankenstein **

Umbriel, you are correct; Pimpernel infiltrated Germany. There was even a forced-labor camp scene, in which he is shot by a camp guard.

And, Moody Bastard, TCM shows Watch… every year. FWIW, you didn’t miss much. I tried that movie a while back and simply couldn’t sit through it, even though I was interested in it for historical reasons. Stagy, talky, preachy, with cardboard characters…

Two high-profile, contemporaneous Hitler spoofs:

Duck Soup (1933). Groucho plays Rufus T. Firefly, who becomes the great leader of Freedonia, and then wages war against its neighbor, Sylvania.

Modern Times (1940). Charlie Chaplin plays both a thinly-disguised Hitler and a hapless German-Jewish barber who is persecuted (sent to a camp, but manages to escape) by the regime.

[nitpick] The Chaplin movie you’re referring to Scrivener is not Modern Times, but rather The Great Dictator[/nitpick]

But a whopper of a nitpick… Eegads, how did I do that? I’ve even seen both. Well, I haven’t had any caffeine yet today.

Thunder Rock (1942) with Michael Redgrave is the film adaptation of a persuasive-if-preachy anti-isolationist play set, and originally performed in 1939.

The 39 Steps (1935) may be a little too early but is commonly said to be ‘about’ Nazis although they couldn’t be specifically identified as such.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1945) kind of covers the period just before WWII but not directly, I think.

My favorite Chaplin is Monsieur Verdoux, which is an extremely subversive war film. The war never appears on the screen, but it informs the characters actions and motivations. Chilling.

From Here to Eternity deals with the rot of the peacetime US Army.

And, of course, The Rocketeer is a lightweight (but wonderful) adventure movie set in the late Thirties, with Nazi spies.

My suggestions (Confession of a Nazi Spy and The Great Dictator) have already been mentioned. Still, an interesting thing you might notice about most Hollywood films made in the late 30’s/early 40’s that involve the Germans, Japanese, and Italians is that they seem to pull their punches. (BTW, this obviously does apply to movies made after America entered the war in December 1941.) Isolationism ran strong in the U.S. before Pearl Harbor and Hollywood did not want to alienate a significant block of the film-going public by urging Americans the confront the fascist military machines rampaging through Europe and Asia. For example, Confessions of a Nazi Spy, which was released several months before the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, was criticized by many in the isolationist camp as anti-German and pro-intervention.

Also, you may notice in these movies that the matter of the Nazi’s violent anti-Semitism is rarely dealt with directly. This was because, even though many of the people who ran the Hollywood studios were Jewish, the industry did not want to inadvertantly play into the hands of American anti-Semites (many of whom were active in the isolationist movement) who accused Hollywood (and Wall Street and much of the media) of being run by a Jewish cabal that was conspiring to get the U.S. into war. As a result, depictions of anti-Semitism in these movies is often blunted. In a movie mentioned by the OP (The Mortal Storm), I recall (and correct me if I’m wrong because it’s been a while since I saw the film) they had a university professor being fired shortly after the Nazis come to power so unspecific ideological reasons rather than for being Jewish. In fact, despite the movie’s apparent heavy-handedness to modern viewers, I have to give Chaplin credit for directly confronting the issue in The Great Dictator and warning of the horrors that would be unleashed if they weren’t defeated. (Although it’s interesting to note that Chaplin had The Great Dictator withdrawn from circulation for 25 years after WWII when Hitler turned out to be a far greater monster than even he thought he was.)

There was that one where a big game hunter tries to assassinate Hitler, just for sport. (And it was a drama, too.)

Damned if I can remember the name of it, though.

Part of “The Shape of Things to Come” is set on the eve of a war. They just didn’t know that it was going to be World War II (well, that and the fact that the earth was not made a barren wasteland).

" The Lady Vanishes " , by Hitchcock and , of course, “Cabaret” , set in pre-war Berlin . Both of these films have their fair share of nasty Germans , especially Cabaret with scenes of Storm Troopers beating up people. I have heard that these scenes were cut when the film was shown in Austria because of far right sympathies amongst some Austrians.

You recall correctly in that they never once used the word “Jewish”; they softened that by dubbing him a “non-Aryan.” And yes, he was a physiology professor who, when questioned by a Nazi student as to the supposed differences between Aryan and non-Aryan blood, refused to be cowed into saying Aryan blood was superior in some way.

There was another Jewish character who Jimmy Stewart rescued from being beaten outside a pub, a Professor Werner- one letter away from the name of one of the studio giants!