In Our Time
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Warner Bros. was apparently hoping to re-kindle some of the old Casablanca (1942) magic with In Our Time (1944), with a love-in-wartime story, Paul Henreid as its star, and Casablanca co-writer Howard Koch co-scripting. In 1939, the Nazis had invaded Poland, and England, France and other Allied nations responded by declaring war on Germany, precipitating World War II. It's against this background of impending global war that In Our Time is set. (The film's title is an ironic comment on British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's boast, after meeting with Hitler, that there would be "peace in our time.") Ida Lupino plays an Englishwoman traveling in Poland in early 1939. She falls in love with a Polish nobleman, played by Henreid, and they marry in spite of his snobbish family's opposition. The couple settles on the family estate, working together to modernize the farm and improve the lives of the peasants. Soon the Nazi invasion threatens their happiness, and eventually their lives, as they decide to fight the invaders. Director Vincent Sherman recalled that it was producer Jerry Wald's idea to make a film about the effect of the German invasion on a Polish family. Co-writer Ellis St. Joseph decided to create a parallel to the family in Anton Chekhov's play, The Cherry Orchard, but according to Sherman, "His script was too talky and lacking in action." But what it lacked in action, In Our Time made up with a strong cast and excellent performances.
Just 25 years old, Ida Lupino had been under contract at Warner Bros. since 1940, and already had a string of impressive performances behind her, in films such as They Drive by Night (1940) and High Sierra (1941), often playing highly neurotic characters. The role of a naive Englishwoman who becomes a patriotic Polish wife was something of a departure for her. At Lupino's urging, Wald had selected Vincent Sherman, who had directed Lupino in one of her best films, The Hard Way (1943), to direct In Our Time. A former theater actor and director, Sherman had appeared in a small role in Russian actress Alla Nazimova's 1931 stage production of The Good Earth. Nazimova had been a legendary stage and silent screen star, and had turned to producing her own films in the early 1920s. But her highly stylized "art" films like Salome (1923) were not successful, and she returned to the theater. In 1940, suffering from health and financial problems, Nazimova returned to Hollywood and began playing supporting roles in films. Sherman cast her as Henreid's aristocratic mother (billed merely as "Nazimova") in In Our Time. It would be one of her last film appearances - she died the following year.
Sherman also cast another expatriate, Russian Michael Chekhov, in In Our Time as Nazimova's brother. Like Nazimova, Chekhov - the nephew of playwright Anton Chekhov - was a disciple of director and acting teacher Konstantin Stanislavsky, and was himself a distinguished theater actor, director, and teacher. Henreid recalled that Chekhov had an emotional scene in the film where he urges Henreid and Lupino's characters to go on fighting. According to Henreid, during rehearsal, Chekhov delivered it simply but movingly, with no tears or histrionics. Henreid, Lupino and Nazimova spontaneously applauded, but Sherman directed him to ham it up, adding sniffles and other bits of business. Later, Henreid asked Chekhov how he could allow Sherman to ruin his performance. Chekhov replied, "I've played Shakespeare, Ibsen, Shaw, Goethe....I don't feel it's important to argue about a piece of second-rate writing." Chekhov's best-known screen role was as the psychiatrist in Spellbound (1945), which earned him an Academy Award nomination. His students included Marilyn Monroe, Gregory Peck, Elia Kazan, Ingrid Bergman, Gary Cooper, and Clint Eastwood.
Made as the war raged overseas, In Our Time featured cast members who were themselves refugees from the conflict in Europe. Henreid had fled his native Austria in the mid-1930s because of his anti-Nazi beliefs, settling first in England, then in the U.S. During the production of In Our Time, he was shocked to learn that a director friend had been executed at Dachau on charges of treason, and another friend, a writer, had been beaten to death by the Gestapo. Belgian-born character actor Victor Francen, who played Henreid's Nazi sympathizer uncle in In Our Time, had been one of the top stars of the French theater and cinema. He left France for the U.S. at the beginning of the war, and frequently played Nazis in Hollywood wartime films.
Critics generally agreed with Vincent Sherman's assessment of In Our Time, and some compared it unfavorably to the work of Michael Chekhov's playwright uncle. "Chekhov is dead and the flavor of Chekhovian theatre is out of date," Bosley Crowther wrote in the New York Times. "Why try to beat the dead animal as they do in this new film?" Crowther's response, perhaps, says more about his attitude toward Chekhov than about the film. The Time critic was more appreciative about what the film was trying to achieve: "Because it is sincerely written and carefully acted, notably by Miss Lupino, and because Vincent Sherman is one Hollywood director who tries to make every shot count, In Our Time manages now & then to give domestic point to the political drama in the background. But much of it is too purely domestic, and some of it suggests a blunted, insensitive imitation of Chekhov."
Director: Vincent Sherman
Producer: Jerry Wald
Screenplay: Ellis St. Joseph, Howard Koch
Cinematography: Carl Guthrie
Editor: Rudi Fehr
Costume Design: Milo Anderson
Art Direction: Hugh Reticker
Music: Franz Waxman
Principal Cast: Ida Lupino (Jennifer Whittredge), Paul Henreid (Count Stephen Orvid), Nancy Coleman (Janina Orvid), Mary Boland (Mrs. Bromley), Victor Francen (Count Pavel Orvid), Nazimova (Zofya Orvid), Michael Chekhov (Uncle Leopold).
BW-111m. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri