Wednesday 21 April 2021

On Blu-ray - Rod Bishop welcomes a restoration of NONE SHALL ESCAPE (Andre De Toth, USA, 1944)


De Toth’s sixth feature and his second for Columbia opens at the end of WW2 when a “War Crimes Commission” puts a Nazi officer on trial for crimes against humanity.

In flashback we learn of the life of Wilhelm Grimm (Alexander Knox), once a German teacher in the village of Lidzbark before WW1. Having lost a leg during the war, he returns to Poland angrily denouncing the Versailles Treaty. Through the 1920s and 1930s he develops a devotion to Nazism, is elevated to the SS and becomes the Reich Commissioner for the Western Region of Poland after the German invasion.

Back in Lidzbark, his behaviour is cruel and violent. The war crimes Grimm commits include massacring Jewish villagers who are being forced onto a train headed for concentration camps. The Rabbi who addresses them makes it clear they will be extermination camps.

Alexander Knox (second from left), None Shall Escape

Cinematic value aside, the most striking feature of this war drama is its dates. 

Released in the USA in February 1944, producer Samuel Bischoff reportedly had the idea for the film back in 1942 when Roosevelt announced the Allies were gathering evidence of Nazi war crimes.

None Shall Escape was on American screens 17 months before the end of WW2 and was in production two years before the start of the Nuremburg Trials in November 1945. 

Some have used the film as evidence the Americans - if not all the Allies - knew of the extermination camps long before Patton’s army uncovered the crimes during their drive towards Berlin.

Written by Lester Cole who was destined to be blacklisted as a member of HUAC’s Hollywood Ten, De Toth’s film has recently had a 4K restoration and Lee Garmes’s sparkling chiaroscuro-influenced black and white cinematography seems just as distinctive as it was on Morocco and Shanghai Express.

None Shall Escape - a surprisingly clear-eyed predictor of the Holocaust from the heart of Hollywood. 

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