5 August 2014 | richard-1787
A good but uneven World War II propaganda movie
This movie has a lot of weaknesses, but its heart is in the right place, and there are definitely good moments for those who enjoy this sort of movie.
The only other reviewer of this movie here on IMDb mentioned "Mrs. Miniver," and the comparison is very valid. That very stirring if often melodramatic movie was made to convince Americans in the early 1940s, still given to isolationism, that the English were worth helping because they were good, decent, and courageous people.
"Paris After Dark" is very similar in that it was made to convince Americans that France, too, merited our help. The situation was very different, however, so the convincing had to be different.
France had declared an armistice shortly after being overrun by the Nazi war machine in 1940. Maréchal Pétain, head of the French armed forces, convinced the government to do so, and then collaborated with the Nazis for the rest of the war, for which he was tried after it. As a result, many Americans saw the French as cowardly and lacking in the sort of moral fiber that "Mrs. Miniver" spends all its time demonstrating to be the very essence of the English character.
So "Paris After Dark" spends a lot of time arguing that 1) the average Frenchman and -woman, Joe/Jane France, was really courageous, and had had nothing to do with signing the armistice, and 2) that all of France, all classes and both sexes, were already fighting the Nazis through the Resistance, even at the risk of their own lives - thereby showing their courage, moral fiber, etc.
This produces a lot of stirring speeches by various of the characters, which, admittedly, often come off as unnaturally oratorical. But you can see what the scriptwriters and the director were trying to achieve.
The acting is uneven. George Sanders and Philip Dorn are both very good. Both are men who have to be won over to the Resistance efforts, and their conversions are convincing. Brenda Marshall, the female lead, sometimes overacts, and is not at their level. Marcel Dalio, so good in so many movies, doesn't do a convincing job with the traitor barber.
If you've seen American movies made in the 1930s that are set in France, you know that Hollywood had often presented the French as rather foolish. Here it does an admirable job of presenting a wide spectrum of French folk, among them lots of average but very noble individuals.
Yes, it's preachy at times. But the cause justified that.
If Hollywood's contributions to the war effort interest you, you will find much of interest here.
A note after a second viewing: This movie, released in 1943 before we had landed on the Normandy beaches, deals with France at what was a real turning point in the Occupation.
On the one hand, the collaborationist prime minister, Pierre Laval, had just negotiated an exchange of workers to be sent to Germany - the STO, Service du Travail obligatoire - in exchange for French prisoners to be released home to France. (The Germans were holding 1.9 million French soldiers prisoner as part of the Armistice Pétain signed in June, 1940.) The ratio was 3:1, three Frenchmen - or women - sent to Germany to work in exchange for one French soldier to be released. It created further hatred for Germany, as the occupying forces began enforcing the "obligation" for men to leave. Many faced with such deportation joined the French Résistance, as Georges and his three friends try to do in this movie.
On the other hand, American forces landed in French North Africa - Morocco and Algeria - at the end of 1942, and after a rather swift campaign, defeated the Germans and Italians there. (If you've ever seen "The Desert Fox", you know that story.) It was called Operation Torch, and, as we see near the end of this movie, it gave the French their first real shot of hope that the Allies had not abandoned them and would, someday, free France as well.
As I wrote above, a lot of this movie is oratorical. People give speeches, sometimes even to the camera. But the last part, where Jean is won over to the cause of the Resistance, is really very moving.