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None Shall Escape

At the International Tribunal of War Crimes held after the Second World War, Wilhelm Grimm, a Nazi commandant, is charged with crimes against humanity. A series of witnesses ranging from a Polish priest to his former fiancée recount his bitterness at the defeat of Germany in the First World War, his life in a Polish border village where he is forced to leave after raping a girl, his return to the village after the invasion of Poland, and his role in the deportation and massacre of Jews.

Andre De Toth (1912-2002) is popularly remembered as the eye patch-wearing director of Westerns and the 3-D picture House of Wax(1953), but a closer look at his work reveals a varied career. Not least among his achievements was None Shall Escape (1944), one of the first Hollywood films to address Nazi atrocities against the Jews. Over the years the film has become something of a forgotten work, though it is beginning to receive the attention it deserves. In the third edition to her definitive study Indelible Shadows: Film and the Holocaust (2003), Annette Insdorf praises None Shall Escape for its visual dynamism--thanks partly to contributions of the revered cinematographer Lee Garmes--and for its having "the kind of grit found in European films of the 1940s."

The film's unusual "European grit" to which Insdorf refers is hardly accidental. Born in Hungary, De Toth started directing films there in the late Thirties up to the outbreak of World War II, even filming the invasion of Poland as a newsreel cameraman. At that point he left for England and worked as the second unit director on the Alexander Korda productions The Thief of Bagdad (1940) and Jungle Book (1942). Another Hungarian, the actor Paul Lukas, signed an affidavit to allow him to relocate to the United States. De Toth was also helped by his association with Korda, who had strong ties with Winston Churchill. De Toth's first Hollywood feature as a director was Passport to Suez (1943), a hastily shot entry in Columbia's "Lone Wolf" series.

None Shall Escape, De Toth's second film for Columbia, was a project he strongly believed in. Although he liked the basic story by Alfred Neumann and Joseph Than, he felt that the script was weak in characterization. Veteran screenwriter Lester Cole was brought in; he would later be blacklisted as one of the notorious "Hollywood Ten" during the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings. Ultimately, the film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Story.

De Toth, still a young and relatively untested director in Hollywood, butted heads with studio head Harry Cohn on more than one occasion. As De Toth recalled in his autobiography Fragments: Portraits from the Inside, initially he wanted to cast four African-Americans in the tribunal jury, but Cohn objected on the grounds that it would make the film difficult to sell in the South. Cohn eventually let him cast one African-American in the jury--Jesse Groves. De Toth enraged Cohn again when he refused, against Cohn's objections, to cast Paul Lukas in the lead, insisting instead on the less well-known Canadian actor Alexander Knox. While Knox had played significant roles before this, including that of Humphrey Van Weyden in the Jack London adaptation The Sea Wolf (1941), what impressed De Toth most was his performance in a Broadway production of Chekhov's The Three Sisters. While Cohn was notorious for his temper, De Toth nonetheless stated, "I respected Harry Cohn for his professional understanding and his love of making pictures. Cohn could be rude and crude--he often was--but never phony."

None Shall Escape was released in February of 1944 to mixed reviews. Bosley Crowther of the New York Times complained that it "says nothing about the Nazis that hasn't already been said," and that it was "bombastically directed." The Hollywood Reporter was closer to the mark, noting that "[De Toth's] treatment of the subject, his handling of the actors and his unbelievable ability to create new departures from routine procedure are evidence of his artistry as a director. His work has the fresh tang of unbridled daring in some respects, and in others seems to borrow from techniques we have long known but forgotten how to use."

Producer: Samuel Bischoff
Director: Andre De Toth
Screenplay: Lester Cole; story by Alfred Neumann and Joseph Than
Director of Photography: Lee Garmes
Art Direction: Lionel Banks, Perry Smith
Editing: Charles Nelson
Music: Ernst Toch
Cast: Marsha Hunt (Marja Pacierkowski), Alexander Knox (Wilhelm Grimm), Henry Travers (Father Warecki), Erik Rolf (Karl Grimm), Richard Crane (Willie Grimm, as a man), Dorothy Morris (Janina Pacierkowski), Richard Hale (Rabbi David Levin), Ruth Nelson (Alice Grimm), Shirley Mills (Anna Oremska), Elvin Field (Jan Stys as a boy), Trevor Bardette (Jan Stys as a man), Frank Jaquet (Dr. Matek), Ray Teal (Oremski); Art Smith (Stys), George Lessey (Presiding Judge).
BW-85m.

by James Steffen

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