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The North Star

The North Star(1943)

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According to modern sources, the film was originally conceived by writer Lillian Hellman and director William Wyler, perhaps at the indirect behest of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as a documentary on the war in Russia. Hellman and Wyler went so far as to consult with Russian Ambassador Litinov in Washington, D.C. and were surprised when the Soviet government approved the project and granted permission to film within Russia. Because of a delay, in part due to Goldwyn's hesitation to commit to the film and Wyler's enlistment in the U.S. Army Air Force, the project was re-conceived as a semi-documentary feature to be shot entirely in Hollywood.
       In an interview, Lewis Milestone asserted that it was Hellman's recommendation that he replace Wyler. Hellman disagreed so strongly with Milestone and Goldwyn's changes to her script that she bought back her contract for $30,000 from Goldwyn, ending an eight-year working relationship. Goldwyn brought in Edward Chodorov for some minor script revisions, which went uncredited. According to information in the file on the film in the MPPA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the Breen Office had strong reservations about allowing the blood transfusion scenes in the completed film.
       On October 23, 1943, the publisher of the Motion Picture Herald, Martin Quigley, published a statement entitled "Valour-Without Politics" defending The North Star as "a tremendous exploration of human experience, recorded in the events of life and strife of people who live and die with the grace of courage." In the November 7, 1943 Sunday edition of the New York Mirror, staff reviewer Frank Quinn praised the film as "one of the most vivid of war dramas." Quinn's review was printed in the first 1,500,000 copies of the magazine section, but was replaced with a negative review by the Mirror's editor, Jack Lait, for the remaining 300,000 copies. The substitute review was written by Lait, who denied that the change was made because the paper's publisher, William Randolph Hearst, had ordered all Hearst newspaper editors to describe The North Star as "pure Bolshevist propaganda." Lait's review, however, followed the Hearst directive, indicating that the film was "worse than Mission to Moscow" and "could not be more flagrant if it were paid for by Stalin." Hearst's smear campaign succeeded in slowing the film's box-office receipts. The picture was nominated for Academy Awards in the following categories: Art Direction (Black-and-White); Cinematography (Black-and-White); Music (Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture); Sound Recording; Special Effects (Photographic Effects, Clarence Slifer, Ray Binger; Sound Effects, Thomas T. Moulton; and Writing (Original Screenplay).
       The Hollywood Reporter noted in December 1943 that the film was to be shown to state officials in Moscow under the auspices of the American Embassy. The same item noted that in London, first night proceeds from The North Star would go to Mrs. Winston Churchill for Russian war relief. An article in the Los Angeles Times indicated that the film carried "one of the most sensational exposs of the war" in the scenes showing Nazi doctors draining Russian children of their blood for their wounded soldiers. According to Hollywood Reporter, the editor of the Soviet national newspaper, Pravda, praised the depiction of Soviet peasants in the film. In 1947, during the House Committee of Un-American Activities (HUAC) investigation into communist and left-wing political activity in Hollywood, actor Adolphe Menjou cited The North Star along with Mission to Moscow and Song of Russia (see below) as pictures containing un-American propaganda that "would have been better unmade." In May 1952 Lillian Hellman was subpoenaed to appear before HUAC for her alleged communist ties, and when the committee refused her offer to answer questions about herself but not others, she took the Fifth Ammendment.
       Modern sources reveal that in 1957, Goldwyn sold The North Star to television and, in addition to changing the title to Armoured Attack, National Telefilm Associates (NTA) re-edited the film, adding credits that identified the film as "an Adaptation of the motion picture The North Star" and acknowledged Hellman as the author. The editing also removed each use of the word "comrade" and added a running voice-over commentary interlinking the Nazi invasion of Russia with the betrayal of the Russian people by the Soviet government. The edited version closed with a strongly worded anti-Communist epilogue, followed by newsreel footage of the Soviet invasion of Hungary. According to information contained in the Copyright registry, the running time for Armoured Attack was 76 minutes, indicating that some 30 minutes of footage had been deleted. A 1976 Variety news item records that the complete original version of The North Star was not shown again in public until that year. The film marked the motion picture debut of actor Farley Granger.