10 January 2010 | MartinHafer
A timeless WWII propaganda film.
This film has one of the most unusual styles of the day. In many ways, its narration by Ray Collins is very reminiscent of the narration by William Holden in SUNSET BOULEVARD. That's because like Holden, Collins is dead and gives the narration post-mortum! A strange plot device but very effective for this sort of film.
THE SEVENTH CROSS is a propaganda film meant to solidify the people back home in the war effort against Nazi Germany. However, the film is set in 1936--three years before the war began. The film finds seven political prisoners escaping from a concentration camp. The whole "seven crosses" reference regards the Commandant's (George Zucco) pronouncement that each of the seven men will be tracked down and hung from these crosses in the courtyard of the prison until they are dead--as a lesson to all those who would dare to consider escaping.
The main character of the film is Spencer Tracy. What makes this performance interesting is that he says almost nothing through much of the film. Collins narrates and things occur around Tracy, but he's so hollow and beaten by life in the camp that he just stares with a somewhat vacant look. As the film unfolds, his performance opens up as well--showing more and more of the familiar Tracy as he slowly recovers from the agonies of his confinement.
The rest of the cast is quite impressive. Many exceptional character actors (such as Felix Bressart, Hume Cronyn and his wife Jessica Tandy, Agnes Moorehead) were gleaned from the MGM roster for the film. Additionally, if you look at the extended list of the cast, you'll see that it is huge---much, much larger than usual. It's obvious that the studio pulled out all the stops to make this a first-rate production.
Overall, a very successful film because unlike some wartime films, this one is timeless and can be enjoyed and admired today because it is a very well made film--with a taut script and excellent acting. As I said, some wartime propaganda films don't work as well today because they are shrill and simplistic. This film has depth and has more to offer than usual.