21 May 2008 | JoeytheBrit
A performance from the Ford production line...
Vincente Minnelli's updating of Vicente Blasco Ibanez's novel is an absorbing melodrama which, as another viewer has noted, must have been watched by Visconti before he made his film The Damned a few years later.
The film begins with the Desnoyers family gathering for dinner following the return of Heinrich (Karl Boehm) from a spell in Germany where, to the disgust of grandfather Julio, he has been indoctrinated into the ideology of the Nazi party. The grandfather is played by Lee J. Cobb and it's a blessing that the old boy pegs it during dinner because Cobb not only chews the scenery but the sets and props as well. Despite this, the lines are clearly drawn between the two sides of the family: Heinrich and his father Karl (Paul Lukas) on one side, Julio No' 2 (Glenn Ford) and little sister Chi Chi (Yvette Mimieux) on the other.
Julio is a playboy with no interest in the war; he prowls swish parties for available women, sidling between arguments of the impending war as he closes in on his prey. Sadly, Ford, usually a likable enough leading man, doesn't possess the necessary predatory swagger to pull of the role. In fact, he is so badly miscast that he seems to be adrift throughout the film, as if trying to figure out how he was ever chosen for the role (Minnelli wanted Alain Delon, apparently, and we can only imagine what an altogether different interpretation he would have given to the part).
The predicament in which the Desnoyer family find themselves is wholly absorbing as the war slowly tears its members apart. Most imaginable sea-changes in personal opinions are explored during the course of the story, from the discovery of a hidden integrity on Julio's part, to disillusion on the part of Karl, the WW1 veteran who allows himself to be swept up in the triumphalism of the Nazi's rise only to find his son becoming irrevocably morally corrupted by the same experiences.
The movie never won any awards, which is probably how it should be, but it provides an intelligent and literary exploration of a fascinating subject that makes it easy to watch despite its bloated running time.