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Directed by Fred Zinnemann in a neorealist, quasi-documentary style, The Search (1948) is a moving drama set in postwar Germany. The focus of the film is a young survivor of Auschwitz (Ivan Jandl) who is being relocated to a Displaced Person's Camp. He panics while other young boys are being herded into a Red Cross vehicle and runs away, suspecting another Nazi death camp trick. An American G.I. (Montgomery Clift) finds him, and cares for him, but in the meanwhile the boy's mother (Jarmila Novotna) is desperately searching for him.
Zinnemann's achievement is all the more remarkable given the resourcefulness of his small crew (which consisted of only ten Swiss technicians) who did everything for the shoots. They had primitive equipment which was packed into one truck and they traveled like gypsies from one bombed area to another, trying to get as many good takes as they could, since negative film stock was very expensive at the time. The majority of the film was shot in the American Zone of Germany which was actually the rubble remains of Nuremberg. Interior scenes, such as the scene where the UNRRA officer (Aline MacMahon) enters a waiting room full of refugee children, were shot in a converted Zurich garage.
The Search is particularly notable for its excellent ensemble performances. For the role of the soldier, Zinnemann chose Montgomery Clift. It served the director well that Clift had made only one film prior to this, Red River (which was not yet released) and helped ensure that the film would not turn into a "star" vehicle, thus diluting its dramatic impact. The Search also proved a most moving experience for Clift as he was later quoted as saying the film was the most fulfilling artistic experience of his career; it gave him a chance to dig deep and study a character far removed from his own life experiences. Clift prepared himself for the role by living with an army engineering unit outside of Zurich. He was particularly interested in developing a soldier's gait; he believed that a character could be defined on how a person moved. Clift also cherished his working relationship with Zinnemann, who allowed Clift to improvise some dialogue that he felt was necessary to more fully realize his character.
The rest of the casting was equally inspired: veteran character actress, Aline MacMahon, had one of her most memorable roles as the woman in charge of the UNRRA camps for children. Wendell Corey (who was vacationing in Zurich at the time of location hunting) was cast as Clift's pal, and Metropolitan Opera star, Jarmila Novotna, was cast as the destitute mother. The most pivotal role, however, was played by Ivan Jandl. He spoke no English and learned his lines by rote. Yet Clift, who always had a special affinity for children, worked with Ivan slowly, patiently cueing him on his dialogue until the camera rolled. As a result, Jandl came to rely on Clift throughout the shoot as a drama coach, making their relationship on screen that much more realistic.
The Search opened nationwide on March 26, 1948, and received unanimous praise. It won Oscars for David Wechsler and Robert Schweitzer for Best Story and a special Oscar for Jandl (outstanding juvenile performance). It also advanced the careers of Zinnemann and Clift, earning them nominations for Best Director and Actor respectively.
Producer: Lazar Wechsler
Director: Fred Zinnemann
Screenplay: Montgomery Clift (uncredited), Paul Jarrico, Richard Schweizer (also story), David Wechsler (also story)
Cinematography: Emil Berna
Film Editing: Hermann Haller
Original Music: Robert Blum
Principal Cast: Montgomery Clift (Ralph Stevenson), Aline MacMahon (Mrs. Murray), Wendell Corey (Jerry Fisher), Jarmila Novotna (Mrs. Malik), Mary Patton (Mrs. Fisher), Ewart G. Morrison (Mr. Crookes)
By Michael Toole