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A soft-spoken school teacher tries to prove he''s not a Nazi collaborator.
As the flag of Nazi Germany is hoisted above the city hall of an occupied French town, a copy of the resistance paper Liberty is slid under the door of the house owned by meek schoolteacher Albert Lory and his overbearing and possessive mother Emma. At his mother's insistence, Albert is about to destroy the paper when he changes his mind and stuffs it into his notebook. On his way to school, Albert meets his next-door neighbor and fellow teacher, Louise Martin, with whom he is secretly in love, and her brother Paul. Louise, who opposes the German occupation, becomes upset when Paul shows a copy of the paper to a German trooper. Upon arriving at school, Louise and Albert learn that the town's collaborating mayor, Henry Manville, has ordered Professor Sorel, the head of the school, to destroy the works of Plato and Aristotle. As Albert instructs his students to tear out the offending pages, Louise vows that one day she will paste them back into the books. When an Allied bombing raid threatens the town, Albert cringes in the school cellar while Louise cheers the raids and leads the students in song. Later, Albert admits to his friend Sorel that he is a coward, and Sorel counsels that he must be strong to instill a respect for liberty and dignity in the children. When a train is sabotaged in the rail yard, Major Von Keller, the German commandant, enlists the aid of yard superintendent George Lambert in finding the saboteurs. Lambert, who is engaged to Louise, is a secret collaborator who denounces "false democratic ideals" in favor of the new German order. Soon after, Paul lobs a bomb at a procession of German troops led by Von Keller and escapes across the rooftops to the Lory yard. In reprisal, Von Keller arrests Sorel and nine other hostages and announces that he will shoot all ten unless the bomber gives himself up. When Louise informs Lambert of Sorel's arrest, she is stunned when her fiancé declares sabotage to be an act of cowardice, and returns his engagement ring. That night, Albert is dining at Louise's house and is about to confess his love when they hear police sirens and Paul sneaks into the house. When the German soldiers arrive to question them, Albert corroborates Paul's story that he has been at the house all night. The next day, Albert awakens to find another copy of Liberty slipped under his door and stuffs it into his pocket. Soon after, some German soldiers arrive to take Albert hostage, and when they find the paper concealed in his pocket, Mrs. Lory becomes hysterical and tells Lambert about Paul's suspicious behavior. Lambert notifies the mayor, who then informs Von Keller. Later that night, Lambert meets Paul at the rail yard to warn him of the danger, but his warning comes too late, as Paul is shot down by German soldiers while attempting to escape. After Paul's death, Albert is released from prison and returns home, wondering why he was the only hostage released. He discovers the answer when he visits the Martin house, and Louise accuses him of betraying Paul. When his mother admits to informing Lambert about Paul, Albert sets out in a rage for the rail yard. Before Albert arrives, however, Von Keller visits Lambert to urge him to attend Paul's funeral and pump Louise for the names of her brother's accomplices. Finally realizing the monstrosity of his deeds, Lambert shoots himself just as Albert bursts into his office. Arrested for Lambert's murder, Albert insists on defending himself in court. When he loses his prepared speech, the normally shy schoolteacher begins to speak extemporaneously about the cowardice of all who collaborate. When the trial is recessed until the following day, Von Keller, realizing the danger presented by Albert's ideas, visits him in his cell and offers to produce a suicide note supposedly written by Lambert if he will abandon his speech. Albert is considering Von Keller's offer when he looks out his cell window and sees his friend Sorel and the other hostages marched in front of a firing squad. When Albert calls to Sorel, his friend smiles and waves before courageously meeting his death. In court the next day, the prosecutor produces Lambert's suicide note, which Albert denounces as a forgery. Declaring that the courtroom is now the only forum available for free speech, Albert eulogizes Paul as a hero and advocates sabotage as the only avenue left for a defeated people. Albert then denounces the collaborators for acting out of self-interest and confesses his love for Louise. When the jury returns a verdict of not guilty, Albert and Louise return to the school, and as his final lesson, Albert begins to read to the students from The Rights of Man . As the Germans come to arrest him, Albert passes the book to Louise, who continues reading.
Cast & Crew
|MPAA Ratings:||Premiere Info:||not available|
|Release Date:||1943||Production Date:||
A Jean Renoir-Dudley Nichols Production
AFI; AFI lib
|Color/B&W:||Black and White||Distributions Co:||RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.|
|Sound:||Mono (RCA Sound System)||Production Co:||RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.|
|Duration(mins):||103 or 105||Country:||United States|
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User Ratings & Review
I am a big fan of George Sanders and I thought his acting was great in this picture. His role was completely out of his usual type. His facial expressions...
this land is mine
kevin sellers 2016-02-18
A film about Vichy France with not one French actor. That about sums up this heavy handed soapboxer for me. Hard to believe that the writer of the sublime...
A precious gem!
Wanda Jahn 2014-07-07
The inalienable rights of all people and the freedom to express those rights without fear of reprisal is as timely a subject today as it was 70 years ago!...