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  • My parents took me to see this film at the Rex cinema in Hanworth England in 1943. I was 6 years old! About half way through the film, there was an air raid. We had to leave the cinema and go to a shelter. I remember the story and especially the song, which the children were singing on the cart. The film has been shown many times on television, but I have never been able to watch it. I guess that this must have some connection with the air raid. I am now 74 years old and the film is being shown again on television tomorrow afternoon. I hope to finally be able to watch it all the way through, at long last and lay to rest whatever has prevented me doing so previously.

    I have finally seen this film to the end! Not bad after 68 years. I now realise why it made such an impression on me. In the film, the children and some adults were bombed and machine gunned by aircraft, after jumping from the carts into a ditch. It was at this point that we had to leave the cinema because of an air raid, having just seen children killed on the screen. I had already experienced many air raids at the age of 3 years and 9 months, during the Septmber 1940 Blitz and I still have vivid memories of the bombing, destruction and fires. Am I correct, or is my memory failing in that I believe the original title for the U.K release was 'The Red Star'???
  • In its time, this probably fulfilled its desired purpose reasonably well, with a fine cast and some effective scenes depicting the suffering caused by Nazi troops. It is probably more interesting now, when it can be viewed with more objectivity, and when it is interesting for a new set of reasons. Its depiction of life in the Soviet Union is a revealing statement about the priorities of its time. The actual movie and story, viewed apart from any and all political issues, work quite well at times, while falling short at others.

    The first part of the story simply dwells on the daily lives of the residents of a Ukrainian farm town. This part is quite slow, and would be of little interest except for the sharp change of tone that comes with the Nazi attack. As banal as the lives of the villagers may have seemed, they certainly did nothing to deserve the suffering they bore as a result of the invasion. Things pick up dramatically in the second part, and at the same time the characters come more sharply into focus.

    Naturally, the scenario is more fiction than fact, especially in its idyllic depiction of life under Stalin's rule. More than anything else, this reflects the urgent desire of the US Government (whose hand was supposedly quite active in the production) to promote full-fledged public support for working with the Soviet Union against the Axis. Like the majority of features in any era that address a then-contemporary issue, it looks much different when viewed years afterward. The truth about both Stalin and Hitler is much easier for us now to determine than it was for the movie's original viewers.

    The cast helps considerably in making it work on a dramatic level. Experienced stars like Walter Huston and Walter Brennan combine with then-young performers like Anne Baxter, Farley Granger, and others to create a generally interesting set of characters. Jane Withers also has a good role, as a hapless but often endearing young woman who is desperate to help. Lillian Hellman brought her considerable reputation to the screenplay, although this kind of material is not really her strength. Lewis Milestone shows his steady hand in the battle sequences.

    Because the cast, director, and writer all add their weight to the production, this works well enough as a fictional drama as long as you set aside what you thought or think about the USSR. As history, the story is not reliable, but the movie itself is interesting as one of the more earnest attempts of its day to use cinema to influence public opinion.
  • In the early 1960's, when "The North Star" was being syndicated to local TV stations as part of their late-night fodder, the film was re-cut and booked under the title "Armored Attack." Thankfully, Lewis Milestone's classic has been re-released in its original form. I don't know if that says much about the political tolerance of contemporary American film-viewers, but "The North Star" is obviously propaganda -- yet clearly more anti-Nazi than pro-Communist. And while screenwriter Lillian Hellman's sentiments did lean Left, she, like Orwell, despised tyranny, no matter from what extreme of the political spectrum it appeared.

    Much has been made of the folk-peasant musicale that dominates the first half-hour of the film by other posters to this site, so I'll dispense mention of it here. Suffice it to say, however, that from the first scene of violence -- a merciless daytime bombardment of civilians on a quiet Ukrainian country road -- the film gathers emotional strength. And when Anne Baxter, playing a schoolgirl, gazes for the first time upon the horrific vision of her school chums, now dead as the result of mechanized warfare, she states evenly, "We're not young anymore." And as the rest of the movie demonstrates, she means it. She and a few others escape into the forest, emerging now and then to engage in hit-and-run sabotage against the Nazi aggressors. The film builds to a climax in which Russian partisans astride horses attempt to take back their village from the better- equipped Germans, giving director Milestone an opportunity to reprise the long tracking shots of approaching figures that became his trademark visual motif.

    When Samuel Goldwyn produced "The North Star," he pulled out all the stops. He enlisted James Wong Howe to photograph, William Cameron Menzies to design the production, and Aaron Copland to write the background score. The cast, besides Baxter, includes Dana Andrews, Farley Granger, Walter Huston, and, as the Nazi You Love to Hate, the legendary Erich Von Stroheim, as a German military doctor who compromises his professional oath through medical experimentation. Supplies of blood for the German army's wounded have dried up, so Dr. Von Stroheim orders the children of the village rounded up and brought to the local school, where he draws great quantities of blood from them -- so much so, that a few of the kids die from the process. Effective and highly dramatic, it certainly beats visions of the Hun boiling Belgian babies in oil.
  • Director Lewis Milestone's "The North Star" shouldn't be viewed in embarrassed silence: it's a snapshot of a bleak period in World War II when Hollywood catered to the government's policy of portraying the recently despised and then of necessity embraced Soviet government and its population as heroic, implacable anti-Nazis.

    Look at the credits: Anne Baxter, Dana Andrews, Two Walters (Huston and Brennan), Farley Granger, Dean Jagger and the aging but still chillingly evil Erich von Stroheim. And the screenplay - Lillian Hellman. Aaron Copland, the dean of American classical composers, provided a serviceable score that pales by comparison to the music that today is his contribution to the nation's music heritage.

    "The North Star" tells the story, at any rate a story, of the resistance of Ukraine villagers to the thundering German blitzkrieg that brought incredible initial success following the launching of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941. There is little historically accurate about either the portrayal of the German advance or the rapid mobilization of patriotic and death-before-submission villagers who love their land with a fierce and unquenchable patriotism. In reality very many in the invaded areas initially hoped the Germans would liberate them from malign Stalinism and only the occupier's stupid and counterproductive terrorism awakened a staunch resistance movement. But this didn't happen overnight.

    The characters are largely one-dimensional and wooden, each playing out a politically correct vision of the real events. Children are slaughtered, German doctors engage in unorthodox practices, villagers rally around men and women of strength and character.

    Obviously 1943 audiences, targets of American government efforts to persuade them of the necessity and justice of arming the Soviet Union though Lend/Lease (actually Give/Never Get Back Anything), had a different experience than I had when I last saw this film (this morning on cable TV while devouring bagels with cream cheese accompanied by ample juice libations). But "The North Star" is a window not only into the history of World War II film but also into the germination of the postwar search for Communists and fellow travelers in Hollywood. What brought kudos in '43 led to scary and destructive investigations in the late forties and early fifties. "The North Star" deserves some credit for careers later ruined, lives destroyed and the Blacklist.

    Sensing that times and tides had changed, an atrociously butchered recut of "The Dark Star" appeared in 1953 as "Armored Attack," the same film de-Sovietized. They had to cut the original from 105 minutes to a mere 82 to "cleanse" the film of the Red Menace. It's worth watching the two versions sequentially. They showcase the impact of the Cold War on Hollywood.

    It's hard to give a rating to "The North Star." Except for the joy of seeing Von Stroheim roll out his patented dark side this is an artificially tame war film in the age of "Saving Private Ryan" and "Platoon." But as a history lesson it well rewards the time spent viewing this page from a perilous time.

    Please, if you're going to rent this film, respect the original and don't get the "colorized" version.
  • What a surprise this film was! A film made in America about a small Russian village that stands up and fights the Germans who invade seems rather unique to me. It may not win any awards for recreating a Russian village or impeccably portraying the Russian culture or people but this movie succeeds in the most important area for a film: it gets the story across and it pulls you into the lives of the characters. There certainly can't be very many films like this one. I have to admit, "The North Star" takes a few minutes to get rolling. The cinematography was great from the beginning, but the story lags during the first half hour to forty five minutes of the film and is mired down a bit by portraying the villagers as so sappy and sweet that they seem to have stepped off the stage of a dreamlike 1940's Hollywood musical. Fortunately, the director, the screenwriter or somebody woke up and realized that this film had potential, and boy does it take off! This movie shifts gears from sappy drivel to life and death matters and the characters seem to come to life. The Germans rolling into their village are no laughing matter, and it is a fight to the death! This movie seems to have Part I which could be called ignorance is bliss and Part II which could be called the real story begins. Perhaps the actors revolted against the director! Part II was a revelation. What the Germans do to the children in the village is enough to make anyone mad enough to fight and I found myself rooting wholeheartedly for the Russians resisting the brutality of the Germans. There are some strong performances in this film by some of the most talented actors of the 1940's. Ann Baxter, Dana Andrews, Walter Huston, Walter Brennan, Jane Withers, Farley Granger and Erich von Stroeheim all give performances that had my attention glued to the screen. I was absolutely amazed and thrilled to find all of these movie legends in one film. Don't miss this one of a kind story. You may never see a movie quite like it anywhere else. I give it an 86/100.
  • ... made this historical curiosity possible.

    The German invasion of Russia transformed Stalin from one of Hitler's allies to one of ours, and made necessary the production of propaganda films -- this one, "Mission To Moscow", "Song of Russia" -- to bring everyone around to the new way of thinking. Hollywood liberals seem to have been keen to have the chance to make a pro-Soviet film.

    "The North Star", therefore, has an impressive list of credits. Lewis Milestone directs a rather poor Lillian Hellman script, while the music is provided by the unusual combination of Aaron Copland and Ira Gershwin.

    The story takes place in a Ukrainian farming village, where ordinary people are determined to resist the foreign aggressors, just as they are in "Dragon Seed" (1944) where the Japanese invasion of China is resisted by Chinese peasants Katherine Hepburn and Walter Huston.

    Since this is a propaganda film, and just as realistic as "Dragon Seed", we see a lot of scenes of village life before war breaks out. It's an endless round of singing, dancing, picnicking, and accordion-playing. Everyone is expected to sing in this film, and that includes Farley Granger, Walter Huston, and Dana Andrews, who accompanies himself on balalaika. Listen closely for the jolly folksong about Soviet children eating too much jam. Girls always have flowers in their hair, and people never walk when they can gaily skip down the road. This is a typical Soviet village in the same way that the Von Trapps are a typical Austrian family.

    In reality, the pre-war years in the Ukraine saw several million in the countryside starve to death during the artificial famine which was part of Stalin's forcible collectivization policy. In the area where this fairytale village is found, many of the locals welcomed the Germans as liberators.

    The pre-war scenes in "The North Star" are certainly ridiculous, but in spite of everything they do manage to have a certain goofy charm. The film changes dramatically for the worse once war breaks out. Most of the film consists of extended battle sequences which are never very convincing or persuasive, where something poignant -- villagers having to set fire to their own houses -- will be followed by something stupid -- cavalrymen leaping from horses through windows at Germans.

    Anne Baxter at the end, in a scene intended to evoke Tom Joad in "The Grapes of Wrath", delivers an inspiring speech from her cart. It's a little embarrassing to sit through, but by that point in the film, you've gotten used to it.
  • One of the many staple of movies made during WWII to both entertain the audience and aid the war effort. Several then-known and soon-to-be-known stars such as Walter Brennan, Dana Andrews, Walter Huston, and Anne Baxter. Aside from the usual war effort type movie, the biggest thing about this movie was that it was one of the rare movies to show the Soviet Union in a positive light. Granted it focused on a small village in the Ukraine without much explicit Soviet visuals but it was none the less. Again it was shot in 1943 when we, and the Soviets, were technically allies and battling the Nazis. Even then the US was never really at ease with the Soviet alliance and shortly after the surrender of Germany it became apparent that the Soviets broke with the rest of the allied post-war plans. However this movie was meant to be more of a heart-warming drama focusing on several families and most specifically their young children who are from 17-to late 20s and a couple even younger who set out on a road trip on the same day Nazi Germany invades the Ukraine. Brennan plays the old man grandfatherly figure who helps the younger people deal with the attack once it commences. This was one of Dana Andrews' earliest war type movies he goes on to play many more such roles. Obviously meant to be a propaganda piece or at least to elicit support for the war it is a good movie if you like war type movies especially since it shows an aspect of the WWII experience that is not commonly scene in movies.
  • The only reason that North Star gets as high as three stars is because of the awesome amount of talent invested in this film both in front of and behind the camera. Otherwise The North Star would be down there with such efforts from World War II as Joan of Ozark and Hitler, Dead or Alive.

    The North Star may be the only war film in history that has a choreographer in its credits. The first half of the film would qualify it as a musical with a score by Aaron Copland and Ira Gershwin. No hit songs came out of this film, the music is serviceable to underscore the mood of the happy peasants of the Soviet Union secure in the blessings of their revolution, but ready to fight the fascist invader who dare take their sacred revolution away.

    Written by a hardcore Marxist like Lillian Hellman, how could you expect it to come out any other way? Even MGM's Song of Russia or RKO's Days of Glory kept the glorification of Stalin's Soviet Union to a minimum and concentrated on the invaders and how to repulse them.

    Seeing Walter Brennan as a Russian peasant is laughable enough, but that dialog about how wonderful the Russian Revolution was in bringing prosperity and peace to the land must have made the very right wing Mr. Brennan hurl after each take. Somehow Brennan was far more acceptable as a peasant farmer from West Virginia than one from the Ukraine. Though he talks just about the same. I'm guessing he felt it would even look more ridiculous attempting an accent.

    Walter Huston got double whammied during World War II for Soviet apologia. He played Ambassador Joseph E. Davies in the film adaption of Davies's book Mission to Moscow for Warner Brothers. That was the other great Soviet apologetic film from this era. But if Huston could keep a straight face doing The Outlaw, doing these two would have been no problem.

    Dana Andrews and Farley Granger play a couple of peasant sons of Morris Carnovsky, Andrews is on leave from the Soviet Air Force. At his country's call to arms, Andrews responds, Granger of course becomes a guerrilla fighter. This was Farley Granger's first film, he had been discovered in high school in southern California where his dad worked as an unemployment clerk. Granger in his memoirs recalls his father meeting many of Hollywood's greats between engagements when they were as eligible as the rest of America for unemployment insurance. Granger recalls with some fondness for the film as it was his first movie role, but he does realize it hasn't aged well. After this and The Purple Heart, Granger went into military service and resumed his career after World War II.

    Anne Baxter, Jane Withers, Ann Harding play some of the peasant women who fight right along with their men folk. Erich Von Stroheim and Martin Kosleck play a pair of fiendish Nazi doctors, a couple of guys you just love to hate. Von Stroheim's scenes with Huston are priceless in their sincerity and their laughability today.

    Lewis Milestone who directed and won an Oscar for All Quiet on the Western Front was in charge of putting this whole thing together. He had to have known that The North Star would not stand the test of time or history.

    For those interested several years ago PBS ran a good documentary, narrated by Burt Lancaster about the Russian campaign of World War II. I'd recommend it rather than The North Star.
  • The North Star is at least as good a propaganda movie as much of Hollywood's wartime output and the astonishing range of talent that helped in its making makes it important rather than brilliant. While not impossible, it would be difficult for this collection of top drawer movie makers to devise a real dog of a production and even the most rabid anti-commie could not put this movie into the same bag as say 'Hitler, Dead of Alive' or 'The menace of the rising sun'. The North Star was multi Oscar nominated and even factoring in the mores of the period, this cannot be dismissed entirely.

    Reading the posts on the movie here, it appears to me that some commentators really miss the whole point of US propaganda at the time and condemn The North Star out of context. These responses suggest to me that The North Star's punch has lost none of its original power.
  • This film was encouraged by the U.S. Government in the early days of WW II following the German invasion of Russia. It is a propaganda masterpiece centered around the former "freedoms" of prewar Soviet Russia life and the changes brought about abruptly by the invasion. Communism was not very popular in the United States even then, so this film was engineered to achieve widespread visibility in the early war years and to engender public approval for our "allies." At that it may be said to have achieved its purpose. Americans did not wish to be identified with any kind of comrade-bashing. Maybe subconsciously Americans desired Soviet victory so as to avoid a three-front War should the Russians have been subdued.

    Historically, the Russians have been able to avoid loss of Moscow to invaders but doubtless this would not have been the case without all of the materials we sent them. Most do not know that over 6,000 fighter aircraft were sent to the Russians, nor do many Americans remember that the four or more B-29s that were badly damaged in combat over Japan and who later sought refuge in Russia, remember that these were seized by Stalin. They were never returned and in fact, they were copied rivet-for-rivet; screw-for-screw as the TU-4 and later turned into long range atomic bomb delivery aircraft whose purpose was to carry atomic weapons to the former ally, the United States. And this (the Cold War) was the only pay-back ever received for our shipments of billions of dollars of armaments. Still, our economic policies and GNP were the very things that brought about the demise of the Communist system.

    With these facts in mind, it is entertaining to view this film and to identify the propaganda pronouncements and the truisms it contains.
  • I saw "The North Star" when I was a child of 6 or 7 and it made a lasting impression on me. I believe older cousins took me to see it while they were baby sitting. I will say without hesitation that it was not intended as a movie for children and that is as true today as it was in 1943. For years I could vividly remember scenes from the movie but did not remember the title. I happened to see it on TV by pure chance late one night during the '70s. I think it was about halfway through the film before I realized what I was watching, but from there on everything was as I remembered it.

    It might correctly be labeled a propaganda film as it was made during a time when we were engaged in WWII. Germany was our enemy and Russia was our ally. As the saying goes, "war makes strange bed fellows." The Nazi war machine is depicted as evil and Russians are shown as innocent victims. Both are indisputable facts. The purpose of the film may have been to propagandize just how evil we believed the Nazis to be but we see films like that all the time. One example, "Empire of the Sun" (1987), a very fine film by Steven Spielberg. That was also an evil empire. Its not considered propaganda now because the war is long over. Its "art." Some might consider "JFK" as a lot of propaganda. Oliver Stone considers it "art".

    If one is interested in films of historical periods, such as WWII, this might certainly be a film of interest.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I am amazed by the intensity of some of the comments.

    The 1943 movie North Star celebrated Stalin's dictatorship over Ukrania, presenting the joys of colectivisation on the humble peasants among whom was the veteran actor Walter Brennan who otherwise played stereotyped American personages. Where the joys of collectivization were simply leftist rot and John Wayne is said to have hated this movie, the movie correctly presents the intensity with which the Russians fought to expel the German invaders. Most German veterans of the Great Patriotic War note that Russians fought on when British or French would have stacked arms and sat by the roadside watching panzers drive by.

    The movie of course does not present the other side of the coin. Ukrania was a province where Stalin had his greatest problem. Resentment flared intensely against the Soviet regime particularly in the rural areas which retained their allegiance to the Church and which resented collectivization. Many Ukranians defected to the German cause.

    This film of course was shot in 1942 in the heat of the war. I hardly would have deemed it sane to have made a movie about citizens of an allied country who had defected to the enemy.

    I do recall that this film went to TV's Million Dollar Movie in the 1950s substantially edited and presented as a German invasion of Hungary and ended with a voice over reference to the Hungarian revolt in 1956.
  • North Star is not merely the story of a group of anti-Nazi villagers engaged in a desperate rear-guard action against the Germans. It is an interesting allegory dealing with issues of courage, fortitude and honesty in dealing with the most frightful of adversaries. The peasants of North Star could be any of us, carrying on with quiet heroism the mundane, routinized humdrum of our own lives. Suddenly forced to face a seemingly indefatigable evil, they discover resources and skills they never knew they had. Along the way, important lessons are learned about love and duty and the importance of principle in defending one's homeland.

    An exciting story, and one that is quite uplifting. It's positive views of Russia's anti-Nazi resistance would later precipitate howls of disapproval from the McCarthy witch-hunters.
  • The picture is set during Nazi invasion, on June 22, 1941, the Fuehrer sent his war machine crashing across the frontiers of the USSR , unleashing a furious Bltzkrieg. The Fuehrer,-known his hatred for Bolshevism-, described the assault on Russia as a crusade against communism, but he obviously was motived by a need for wheat, oil, and mineral supplies to enable him to defy the British blockade. This is flag-waving and propaganda film but at the time US and USSR were allied, it deals about an idyllic Soviet village. The first part describes life of a little town, a pacific village with good people, singing, dancing and living happily. When Nokya(Dana Andrews) and young villagers(Anne Baxter, Farley Granger, Jane Withers) go to Kiev are picked up by an old countryman(Walter Brennan). While they're singing and amusing themselves, then happen a Nazi invasion and they're bombed.The second part is quite starkly moving developing account of deeds that befall about the villagers and when they go into action.

    The interesting film is a gripping war story with valiant villagers facing on Nazis.This unnerving epic depicts the horror war as Nazi atrocities and as the resistance fighters roam the Russian countryside attacking during the invasion. Although melodramatic moments in overall effects, also has moments of astounding power with some overwhelming sequences. Thought-provoking screenplay amid much feuding writer Lillian Hellman and producer/director , and Hellman told her disappointment on the adaptation. The credits are extraordinaries, prestigious actors, Walter Huston as the village medic, Dana Andrews, Farley Granger in his first role along with Anne Baxter, Erich Von Stroheim as usual official Nazi, Dean Jagger, among them.Cinematography supplied by the master James Wong Howe and score by the classic Aaron Copland with lyrics by Ira Gershwin.

    The motion picture is well directed by Lewis Milestone, he was born in the Ukraine(where is set the movie), but emigrated to America at 18 and he served in WWI. He often made chronicles of wartime conflicts and persisted in showing horror war from the point of view of the ordinary soldier. As he showed WWI(All quiet on the western front), WWII(A walk in the sun,Purple heart, Halls of Motzuma,Edge and darkness) and Korean war(Pork Chop Hill); and directed several other excellent movies in different fields, drama(Of mice and men, Strange love of Martha Ivers), adventures(Mutiny on the Bounty) and heist-comedy(Ocean's eleven), among others.
  • PWNYCNY14 September 2015
    This movie is tremendously powerful. How did communities cope with hordes of Germans invading their country? The movie is about people, not political systems. Although the movie provides a romanticized depiction of conditions in the Soviet Union in 1941, it is not peddling a particular party line. Rather, the benign conditions depicted in the movie are a theatrical device employed to intensify the dramatic impact when the Germans arrive. The political aspects of the conflict are toned down to a minimum. To have done otherwise, that is to have framed the story in purely political terms, Nazi versus Communist, would have transformed the movie into a polemic. The movie avoids this pitfall. Rather, it concentrated on the people, their interactions, their sense of community and their courage. Indeed, even the Germans are not depicted in purely stereotypical terms. Thus, the characters do not become caricatures. According to reliable historical sources, under Stalin conditions in the Ukraine were awful, for reasons that need not be discussed here, and many Ukrainians actually welcomed the Germans as liberators. But this movie is not about bashing Stalin, or even bashing the Germans, but rather about people who are forced to deal with life and death situations. In this regard, this movie is brilliant.
  • This film is an out and out falsification of conditions on Soviet collective farms. It is pro-Communist propaganda designed to present the collective farms as filled with "happy, well-fed peasants", when it fact, the conditions were horrendous. And the peasants were forced by violence, mass murder and mass starvation into the collective farms.

    The film is so filled with falsifications that the expert of the crimes of the Stalin Period (1927-53), British historian Robert Conquest calls it, "a travesty greater than could have been shown on Soviet screens (in the 1940s)." (Robert Conquest, "The Harvest of Sorrow," page 321, Oxford, 1984)

    When pro-Communist influence is talked about in Hollywood, this movie is exactly what is meant. Despite the fact the truth about the horrors committed by the Soviet regime was known long before this movie, pro-Communists in Hollywood made this movie as an attempt to influence American audiences to have a favorable view of the Evil Empire.

    Lenin and Stalin murdered more people than Hitler did before the last had even come to power; Stalin himself was to order more mass-killings-- and genocide against the Ukrainian people, and others--by himself than Hitler did. In fact, it is not going to far, by ANY stretch of the imagination to say that Hitler was an amateur in mass murder who learned many lessons from the master: Stalin.

    Yet all the while pro-Communists like the writer of this movie, the despicable Lillian Hellman were denouncing Hitler, they were actively aiding Stalin's campaign to deceive the West about his own crimes.

    It's one thing to ignore or fail to speak up about crimes against humanity. It is entirely something else to actively help cover them up. The makers of this film were AT BEST tools; at worst accomplices of the worst mass-murderer in history.

    If you've ever wonder what HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) was looking for when it investigated Communist influence in Hollywood THIS is exactly it! Those who believe that HUAC (and Sen. Joe McCarthy's hearings) were "witchhunts" are deluding themselves. The proof of Communist influence--in Hollywood--is right here; as well as in the films "Misson to Moscow" and "Song of Russia."
  • The North Star (1943)

    Made at the request of President Roosevelt, this fictional Sam Goldwyn independent production recreates the Soviet side of WWII by taking us into the lives of a small town family, apparently Ukrainian. The cast is stellar, with writing by Lillian Hellman, music by Aaron Copland, lyrics by Ira Gershwin (it's very musical) get the idea? This propaganda film pulled no punches. But it's troubled in a lot of ways, not the least of which is its goody-goody view of Russian life that makes Russian propaganda look accurate. Dana Andrews is a breath of fresh air, but really, do they have to have him singing and playing the balalaika while walking a country road? Smiling? But in uniform, which is key. Luckily, Andrews is thoroughly great in the rest of the film. But I decided to watch this film for another reason: James Wong Howe. Yes, his cinematography is quite stunning, and virtuosic through a range of styles. Much of the first part of the film is in a kind of brightly lit quasi-documentary style, with lots of hearty happy faces, all tightly framed and with some key moving camera to keep it real. Some of the family scenes inside are filmed with beautiful rich contrast. But what a quirky film in so many ways. It's heroic, for sure. When it gets to the war parts it's gripping and much more realistic. But there is consistent music, which was a surprise. Even Walter Brennan sings. But the bulk of the film is the war scenes, and they are impressive. Most of the film was shot at the Samuel Goldwyn studios, and it feels convincing. Walter Huston is commanding, and good old Erich von Stroheim takes on an ugly role with gusto. Lewis Milestone directs much of this mishmash with a feeling of a 1936 film, the characters simple and overly idealized as if fighting the Depression with dignity. The early war scenes (many shot with decent back projection) save the film, but in a way they are meant to be context for the human dramas of the town folk. It is when the war enters the village that the elements all meet and the movie rises up. By the end, it is the obvious writing that pulls the movie down and the stunning photograrphy that saves it.
  • Yesterday on TCM I came into the middle of a movie where I immediately recognized one of my favorite actors, Dana Andrews, and recognized the unmistakable voice of Walter Brennan even when his face was covered with the beard of a Slavic Patriarch. Looking them both up along with IMDb on my cell phone internet connection led me to North Star (1943). I followed the movie to its conclusion and discovered that although I found it to be a likely bit of war propaganda, that such rah-rah-whatever-side-the-USA-happens-to-support-at-the-time films probably resonate with me, even when they're sort of corny and propagandistic. Some of the charges made in the movie against the Wehrmacht were so seemingly outrageous that I decided to do further research, and eventually came to your website again and read Varlaam's review and more thoroughly looked at the credits and so forth and discovered that the scriptwriter was - uh oh - Lillian Hellman.

    Varlaam was correct to point out that when the Germans invaded Ukraine, then a part of the USSR, they were greeted as liberators, indeed I have personally seen film footage of Ukrainian women throwing roses in the paths of German soldiers. This was because the Ukrainians were starving (over 7 million of them by that point), which fact was caused by Soviet Collective Farming. Malcolm Muggeridge of course exposed the Ukrainian starvation, while the New York Times' Walter Duranty covered it up. This then begs the question: why WOULD Dana Andrews, Walter Brennan, Anne Baxter, etc. lend their names to a film of this sort? Moreover, who would write it? The answer is that Lillian Hellman wrote it. Lillian Hellman was such an unrepentant Communist that she actually praised the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

    The really sad part is that an important feature of the movie, the use of Russian children by the Wehrmacht as human blood banks, appears potentially to be true. Yet there were only two hits on the first page of google hits that are NOT false positives when you type in Nazis used children as blood banks, and only one of those two (the top two) was a serious historical journal article, the other merely a chat board discussion. It's mentioned in the historical article that the Soviets mentioned this charge at Nuremburg, and it's the one charge that got dropped. Is it possible that, given Hellman's reputation, that she was seen as a biased boy crying wolf? Who knows? I'd be curious to know if there are others who, like me, tend to like the really mushy "mainstream of American 'thought'" (or perhaps I should say, 'feelings') movies of the 1940s (perhaps the influence of my parents) but who, having become older and wiser, wonder how much of what they "know" about reality is influenced by films with a fairly biased perspective. The sad part of Hellman's movie is that the most shocking part of her movie may be true, but unfortunately has largely gone into the dustbin of history due to the fact that her perhaps justified charge against the Wehrmacht has been thrown out with the bathwater of her Communist ideology.
  • A friend of mine who is a professor of communications always points out to me, the professor of history, that all film must be placed in the context of the day it was filmed. Definitely the case here with this rather surreal gem. Why do I call it surreal? Well anyone who is reading this most likely knows the background of the film and its later impact, but for me it is just utterly strange to see this attempt at making a community in the Soviet Union look "just like us." The two Walters? Huston and Brennan? Quintessential American characters. . .and I kept waiting for Walter B. to ask for his false teeth or sing "give me that old time religion," and for Walter H. to go into his "gold dance." And Aaron Coplan with the sound track? Though a valiant attempt to sound "Russian" you could still hear the Americana and expect the dance, at any moment to shift into a hoe down. Compare Dana Andrew's incredibly bad monologue as he flies to his death in this film, (and yes sounding like a bad monologue from a Soviet propaganda film) to his stunning performance, but two years later in Best Years of Our Lives, when without saying a word, just sitting in a bomber with that "thousand yard stare", we far better grasp the horror of war. Years back the Soviets, who loved Mark Twain, supposedly made a movie of Tom Sawyer. I guess the effect must of been the same. There are some stories that just don't translate, and this film is one, a strange heavy handed attempted at propaganda.

    I've shown parts of this film several times to my WWII class and they sit there gape mouthed, not knowing whether to laugh or cry with embarrassment for all involved.

    Now to the trivia and IMDb site, and may it be a warning to you. I travel to Mongolia every year to do research. Several years back one of my traveling companions was a film buff like myself and we'd pass the long hours of bouncing around in the back of a jeep over the trackless steppes talking about favorite movies and peppering each other with trivia questions, informally keeping score with the winner (or was it the loser) having to chug down some more fermented horse milk. We drifted on to this movie chuckled about it and then I asked the fatal question.. .who wrote and directed it? And then we sat there blank faced. NEITHER of us knew the answer. The most golden of all rules, never ask a movie trivia question without IMDb on hand had been broken. You undoubtedly know the torment that resulted. For days, back and forth we agonized over an answer the nearest computer terminal five hundred kilometers away. We'd of given gallons of that horse milk to suddenly fall upon an Internet Cafe out in the Gobi. At two in the morning, one of us would roll over in our tent and curse the other "Who the $$$%^& wrote the $$$%*% screenplay?" It was hell. And then, the strangest rescue I've ever experienced. We were camped along the Orkhon River and in the distance, like the lone rider approaching in Lawrence of Arabia, we saw a jeep. A shimmering dot that a half hour later pulled up and stopped. . .and out piled three elderly British ladies, sounding for all the world like they were straight out of a Monty Python skit. Actually they were an awe inspiring delight, three women in their sixties, fulfilling an old school girl promise to one day explore Mongolia together. . .and they pull up to our camp in the middle of no where. So of course we invite them to stay, and we are soon in deep conversation about our love of the country, when suddenly it hit me. . .here might be our rescue.

    "Ladies, this might sound strange, but my friend and I have a question. . ." "Oh go ahead dear.. ." and again it was like being in Monty Python.

    "Would any of you know who wrote the screenplay for North Star?" "Oh you mean Lillian Hellman my dear. . ." They got our finest bottle of vodka as a reward. How the hell they knew, well it turned out our rescuer was a film buff as well. And the lesson was learned. NEVER ask a film question unless you know the answer, or have IMDb on hand...which is still difficult in some places in the middle of Mongolia
  • Up until WWII, most Americans (and particularly Hollywood) looked to Soviet Russia with, at best, fear. While the true extent of the brutality and human rights violations of the Stalinist regime were still not fully comprehended, there was great fear that the Russians were bent on world domination. BUT, with the entry of the United States into WWII, the Russians, our previous enemy, was now our ally. And, to engender support for this new ally, Hollywood created a fictionalized version of the Russians--portraying them as brave and loyal and almost super-human. While some of these qualities were no doubt true of those who heroically fought the Nazis, many simply fought for survival and chose to protect their own evil regime because it seemed less evil than the Germans--or because they were murdered by their own KGB troops if they did not fight. However, in The North Star, none of this is apparent. Instead, the Hollywoodized version of the Russians is given and their government, it seems, is freedom-loving and decent! What a lie. Because of this, the movie ONLY has value as a historical curiosity as propaganda. I would be very afraid someone might view it today and take it for fact instead of complete fiction. Despite this movie's attempts to portray it otherwise, Stalinism ranks as one of the greatest evils in human history.

    While this is essentially the same review I gave to another pro-Russian propaganda film of this era, MISSION TO MOSCOW, The North Star is a little better as far as entertainment value is concerned. You'll rarely see the Nazis portrayed in as evil a light in any American film of the time. But it is nonetheless a lie from start to finish in regard to its portrayal of the Russians. While the people were brave and decent, its leader was the epitome of evil.
  • It's true that this movie was produced at a time when we were allied with the Soviet Union against Hitler. But, as Churchill said, when asked about the morality of allying with such a murderous, totalitarian regime, "I would have made a pact with the devil to defeat the Nazis." It was Hollywood's job to laud our allies, and to do so they enlisted Lillian Hellman, longtime Communist dupe and staunch defender of Stalin, right into the 50's. For the score they enlisted Aaron Copland, a fine composer whose Communist sympathies were none the less well known. The result is a love letter to the glories of the Worker's Paradise and the joys of life on the collective farm. No mention here of gulags, the KGB, political murders or food shortages. This film is Exhibit A in defense of those who were concerned about Communist propoganda in the film industry.
  • paulheineman17 October 2005
    The depiction of the Ukranian collective farms as some kind of rural fantasyland is disgusting. As a devoted Stalinist, Lillian Hellman would have chosen to omit any mention of the fact that this area experienced a mass famine in the early 1930s that killed millions of people. The jury is out as to whether this famine was engineered by the state, but the most generous characterization anyone can come up with is criminal neglect. And by the way, the same year the Soviet government exported grain, thanks to the armed troops sent into the countryside to forcibly collect grain. As a result, many, though not all, Ukrainian peasants greeted the Nazis as liberators. Had the Nazis not been instinctively hostile to Ukrainians as Slav Uentermenschen, they may have been able to exploit this anti-Soviet feeling.
  • In discussing Communist influences in Hollywood and HUAC you must also remember the time in which this film was made. The Soviet Union was our ally during WWII and why would we want to portray our ally poorly? While I do not disagree with you that this film is slippery with the truth in terms of life on collective farms you also have to remember that there were movie theaters all over the world. You wouldn't want an enemy like Germany to see that the Soviet Union was in such poor condition when they were attacking Soviet land. I think one thing we forget when watching old films especially those that came out of this time is that we must put ourselves in the context of what was happening in the world at the time.
  • One of the WWII propaganda films which in this case showcased the Russians as a good people being terrorised by German invaders. This was of course before the Cold War (and during that time this movies was re-edited and re-issued to de-emphasise the perception of the Russians as victims).

    The action focuses on two families who are connected through the romance of young principals Anne Baxter and Farley Granger, and what happens to them when their country is invaded. Granger's older brother is a flyer (played well in an early appearance by Dana Andrews), while Baxter's friend Claudia is forced to grow up very quickly as her family and friends come under increasing threat (Claudia is played by Jane Withers, who is excellent in this).

    Walter Brennan plays the driver who takes the kids out for a trip which becomes fraught with danger for them; Walter Huston plays the hospital doctor who eventually finds the inhumanity of the German officers intolerable; Erich von Stroheim plays the chief officer, a former colleague of Huston's who has used his medical skills to go bad.

    It may have been written just as a tool of propaganda but the film is memorable and has some moments that are done particularly well – particularly centring on the town as children are gunned down in the streets and houses are torched.
  • One of the worst propaganda stunts I´ve seen, the movie holds a childish view of Stalin´s totalitarian state; People sing and dance and nobody has any worries. In reality after the horrible reign of the communists most of the population welcomed the Germans as their saviours (although they later discovered their liberators were almost as bad as the Russians).

    I hope that nobody takes this film seriously.
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