Edge of Darkness
Cast & Crew
In October 1942, a Nazi plane spots a Norwegian flag flying over the German-occupied fishing village of Trollness. On investigation, the Nazis discover that the entire Nazi garrison has been killed and the commander, Captain Koenig, is discovered in his office, shot through the head. The streets, which are filled with bodies, are apparently empty. The only living person found is insane and the Nazis quickly execute him. Before the deaths, the villagers quietly resisted their Nazi occupiers: The resistance movement is led by a group of people including Gerd Bjarnesen, the owner of the hotel, whose father was killed by the Nazis; Gunnar Brogge, the head of the fishermen's union; and his fiancée, Karen Stensgard, the daughter of the town's doctor, Martin. Gunnar is planning to escape to England to join the resistance there, but before he can leave, a wounded man from a nearby village brings news that the English are delivering guns to the Norwegian underground in preparation for a unified revolt against the Nazis. The following day, Karen learns that her brother Johann, a Nazi collaborator, is coming home, and she begs her father to keep him away. Later, there is a meeting in the church to decide if those sympathetic to the resistance movement will join in fighting the Germans. Pastor Aalesen is opposed to the plan, believing that murder is wrong no matter why it is done. Stensgard is also unsure about the planned action, but the villagers vote to accept the guns and attack the Germans. Karen, Gerd and Gunnar take turns waiting for the British to deliver the weapons. After they arrive, Karen warns the other resistance workers that her brother may betray them if they are not careful. While they are hiding the weapons, someone accidentally drops an English flashlight. Koenig's men find it and, suspecting that the village is up to something, Koenig confiscates all the fishing boats, hoping this will prevent the villagers from earning a living and force them to divulge their plans. Johann's uncle, Kaspar Togersen, the owner of a fish canning factory, pressures Johann to betray the plotters, and somewhat reluctantly, Johann questions the simple-minded shopkeeper, only to receive false information. The Nazis increase pressure on the townspeople, who have been asked not to take action until the British can arm the entire Norwegian coast. When Koenig tries to confiscate the home of Sixtus Andresen, the schoolteacher, Andresen resists and is beaten by the soldiers, who also burn his belongings. Although the townspeople are extremely angry, they refrain from attacking, but when Karen is raped by a German soldier, Stensgard is driven to murder. In revenge, Koenig decides to execute all the leaders of the resistance. The Germans force the group to dig their own graves, but before they can carry out the executions, the villagers finally can take no more and march on the square. Even the pastor opens fire from the church. The villagers fight through to the harbor and load the women and children on boats headed for England. They continue to battle the Germans at great cost to themselves. Finally cornered in the last remaining German stronghold, Koenig writes a note and kills himself. Even as the Nazi soldier reports that no one is left alive, another soldier is shot while lowering the Norwegian flag. Karen, Gunnar and the surviving villagers decide to stay to defend their town.
Peter Van Eyck
Everett A. Brown
Leo F. Forbstein
Robert M. Haas
E. Wessel Klausen
Frank U. Peter Pohlenz
Willard Van Enger
Jack L. Warner
Errol Flynn Adventures - OBJECTIVE, BURMA! & 4 More in the New ERROL FLYNN ADVENTURES DVD box set
Four of the five pictures in the collection were directed by Flynn's good friend Raoul Walsh, a proven master who made almost any script play well. Add solid Warner production values (give and take occasional traces of wartime austerity) and the Errol Flynn Adventures disc set is a showcase collection of our favorite matinee idol in action -- in this case, doing a lot more fighting than kissing.
In the hectic days after Pearl Harbor, it took a few months for Hollywood to figure out how to portray the war on movie screens. With newspapers reporting one bad-news headline after another, the studios were tasked to produce feel-good pictures to raise civilian spirits. Released in September of 1942, Desperate Journey is a preposterous tale of Allied derring-do behind enemy lines, with Flynn and his gung-ho buddies (including his Adventures of Robin Hood sidekick Alan Hale) making fools of the Nazis in their own back yard.
When their flight commander is killed, co-pilot Terry Forbes (Errol Flynn) crash-lands his bomber deep in the heart of Germany. After escaping from Major Otto Baumeister (Raymond Massey), Forbes and his four surviving comrades flee westward to Holland. They blow up a chemical factory, hitch a ride on Herman Goering's private railroad car and make fools out of every German in their path. Beautiful underground activist Kaethe Brahms (Nancy Coleman) helps them escape from the authorities, and they barely survive a trap set by Gestapo agents. After a breakneck car chase in Holland, the survivors see their chance -- the Germans are preparing a captured Allied bomber for a raid on London. Can our intrepid heroes hijack it and flee back home?
Any comparison to real-life commando action inside Germany will make Desperate Journey seem like total idiocy. But the movie takes itself seriously only when characters pause to deliver $10 morale speeches about the need to win or the sacrifice of "good Germans" resisting their evil leaders. The rest of the time it's a Vaudeville act, with the players telling jokes as they hoodwink the enemy. Alan Hale pesters German guards with spit-wads and laughs himself silly when his appetite is compared to Goering's. Smart aleck Johnny Hammond (Ronald Reagan) confuses the dimwit Major Baumeister with fast-talking word games and smart remarks. Our boys behave like the Dead End Kids, leaving the Germans standing around looking embarrassed. Escaping from these dodos is all too easy. The violence is on a par with gags in a Three Stooges movie, except that some of the straight-man comedy targets get shot dead.
Ex-child star Ronald Sinclair later became an editor for Roger Corman; this is his last movie as an actor. He plays the green recruit among the fugitives, while Arthur Kennedy's Jed Forrest constantly reminds the jolly commandos that they have a serious mission to perform. Star Errol Flynn barely gets to hold hands with Nancy Coleman, and delivers the painful verbal jokes in Arthur T. Horman's original screenplay with a breezy attitude. More than a few punch lines riff on Flynn's personal reputation. Stranded on a roadside, Terry Forbes quips, "This is the first time I ever ran out of gas while I was with two men!
Director Walsh's brisk work keeps the story from dragging, aided by Bert Glennon's glossy camerawork. The budget crunch is seen in various WB studio facilities enlisted to serve as a German chemical factory. Max Steiner's rousing score is almost too refined for this escapist frivolity. Desperate Journey achieved its mission by giving wartime audiences a chance to laugh at the enemy.
The one film in the collection not directed by Raoul Walsh, 1943's Edge of Darkness adopts an entirely different approach to laud the fierce resistance of proud Norwegian patriots. Robert Rossen's unsubtle, humorless screenplay takes every Nazi-imposed hardship in deadly earnest. A peaceful fishing town is oppressed by German occupiers aided by the owner of the local cannery (Charles Dingle), a Quisling who expects to make a profit no matter who rules Norway. Fisherman Errol Flynn and Ann Sheridan are brought together by the resistance movement. Sheridan and her doctor father (Walther Huston, in an imposing beard) are distressed when her brother (John Beal), a known collaborator, returns from Oslo. The Quisling easily forces the brother to become an informer. A shipload of guns for the patriots arrives at the same time that the local commandant (Helmut Dantine) plans to execute a hundred hostages. As our heroes are forced to dig their own graves, open rebellion breaks out. The local Pastor (Richard Fraser) fires the first shot from his church tower -- with a machine gun.
The intent of Edge of Darkness is to shock the audience with oppressive Nazi measures. Every family fears for the life of a loved one taken hostage. The class-act cast (Judith Anderson, Ruth Gordon, Roman Bohnen) trembles with fear and simmers with hatred for their occupiers. In a scene that probably tips the film a bit too far, Ann Sheridan's character is raped by a loutish German soldier, in the vestibule of the church, no less. Stoic solidarity is the only response; as the screenplay emphasizes the need for a communal vengeance. The movie would probably have been better without any recognizable stars. None of these great actors is given much to do, and Errol Flynn's character is given little chance for individual expression.
The revolt of the townspeople is very much a fantasy. The Norwegians attack with guns they've never shot, overwhelming outposts until they converge on Dantine's forest headquarters. German soldiers fall like tenpins. Guilty informer John Beal atones by sacrificing himself in the heat of battle. Among the younger female cast members is the beautiful Virginia Christine, who would later become the star of Folger's coffee commercials. Up in the Nazi lair, Nancy Coleman's Polish girl is apparently kept as Helmut Dantine's "guest". She's shocked to find out that the commandant will not let her go home, and that if he tires of her she will be "turned over to the enlisted men". Some wartime propaganda films clearly received a no-questions pass from the Production Code.
Director Lewis Milestone keeps his camera moving, over-using the signature fast-trucking shot he introduced to startling effect in his classic All Quiet on the Western Front. Shot after shot rakes across lines of charging patriots, turning the camera into a machine gun. Cameraman Sid Hickox frequently employs a zoom lens, a gadget that didn't see much use until the 1960s. The technically slick movie employs plenty of unconvincing but dramatic miniatures. Told as a flashback, the story begins as Germans discover that the entire town square is covered with at least 200 dead bodies -- no survivors, no wounded, no blood. Whoever arranged the shot draped these extras around the large outdoor set so decoratively, that the scene now seems laughable.
1943's Northern Pursuit finds a better balance between action escapism and sober war rhetoric. Taking a cue from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's 49th Parallel, a Nazi submarine disgorges a group of German spies in Hudson Bay. Thanks to their inflexible, fanatic leader Keller (Helmut Dantine), the intruders die in the frozen wastes. Keller is rescued by Canadian Mountie Steve Wagner (Flynn), but Wagner's behavior soon becomes questionable. Of German descent, Wagner listens to Keller's talk about German repatriation and defies his superiors' demands that he take a less friendly attitude to his prisoner. Wagner soon resigns under a cloud of suspicion. When Keller escapes from an internment camp, Wagner abandons his sweetheart Laura (Julie Bishop) at the altar to join the Nazi on a snowy trek into uncharted territory.
Northern Pursuit is an unpretentious thriller that allows audiences to concentrate on a game of wits in an interesting setting. Flynn's renegade hero can't stop the nefarious German infiltrators from murdering his comrades. His options disappear when his fianceé is brought along as a hostage. The intelligent screenplay shows the nasty villain defeated by his own evil nature. Keller begins with a number of willing allies, all of which soon realize that they're expendable pawns in his fanatic Nazi scheme. Keller murders his loyal aide Gene Lockhart when the man becomes too sick to travel, and likewise alienates his foolish Indian guides. Much like James Bond, Wagner survives to foil a diabolical sabotage scheme organized years before war was even declared.
The movie has suspense and intrigue and some good humor, and establishes a warm relationship between Wagner, Julie Bishop's cute girlfriend and their best buddy Jim Austin (John Ridgely). It's also an impressive production, with lavish, convincing sets representing Northern Manitoba. The avalanche sequence benefits from excellent special effects. Don Siegel is credited with special montages.
1944's Uncertain Glory delves rather awkwardly into a story of the French Occupation, offering a Nazi hostage situation as an opportunity for personal redemption. Thief and murderer Jean Picard (Flynn) escapes from the guillotine when his execution is interrupted by a timely allied bombing raid. He flees to rural France with the girlfriend (Faye Emerson) of another criminal (Sheldon Leonard) but is quickly recaptured by the brilliant, famous Inspector Bonet (Paul Lukas). Picard's return trip to the executioner is delayed by a blown-out bridge. The local Nazis will execute a hundred hostages from a small community unless the saboteur comes forward. Picard convinces Bonet that he'd rather die by a German firing squad than have his head cut off. Thinking of the hostages, Bonet breaks his vows of service and reports that Picard is dead. Amused by the opportunity to become a post-mortem hero, Picard insists that he'll go through with the bargain. But that's before he falls in love with a local girl, the lovely Marianne (Jean Sullivan).
Uncertain Glory is just unusual enough to work. Errol Flynn plays a womanizer who reforms, a choice perhaps influenced by the bad publicity from Flynn's real-life tangles with statutory rape accusations that had put his viability as a movie star in doubt. Jean Picard makes fun of his change of heart from knave to selfless patriot, continually teasing Bonet with the possibility that his conversion is just another dodge. One rather inspired church scene has Picard confessing his past crimes to Bonet. The crook can't resist exaggerating his personal record of villainy.
Laszlo Vadnay and Max Brand's suspenseful story keeps us guessing right up to the end, when it looks certain that Bonet's trust in Picard has been poorly placed. Considering the story device of the interrupted execution, we keep wondering if Uncertain Glory will have an Ambrose Bierce-style ending. Paul Lukas is sympathetic as the skilled detective who arrests Picard only a few hours after his untimely escape. Ex-ballet dancer Jean Sullivan is touching as the innocent Marianne, who seems to intuit that her mystery boyfriend's secret is related to the hostage crisis.
The filmmakers can be commended for not painting all of the French as noble lovers of democracy. When Mme. Maret (Lucile Watson) frames the outsider Picard as the saboteur in an effort to save her son taken as a hostage, the little town forms an impromptu lynch mob. What makes Uncertain Glory interesting is that its hero isn't innocent, but a confessed thief and murderer. He's somewhat comparable to James Cagney's Rocky Sullivan in Angels with Dirty Faces, a bad man not entirely certain why he feels compelled to do the right thing.
The most popular and acclaimed film in the collection is 1945's Objective, Burma!, a combat saga that pretty much wrote the last word on the American attitude toward the enemy in the Pacific Theater. Jungle fighting in Burma is a hellish ordeal in waist-high swamp waters, and contact with the Japanese is a nasty business of ambushes and massacres. Ranald MacDougall and Lester Cole's screenplay, from Alvah Bessie's story, avoids the most obvious of service clichés, giving the exhausted soldiers plenty of dialogue about their miserable condition. Characters aren't wounded in billing order, either. Captain Nelson (Flynn) leads commandos to destroy an enemy communications center, a mission that goes off without a hitch. When their escape route is overrun, the hardy troops must force-march across 200 miles of forbidding, enemy-infested jungle.
The movie stresses the reaction of a cross-section of Americans to the horrors of combat, including an over-aged war correspondent (Henry Hull). The strongest scenes involve the group's discovery of a Japanese atrocity. Although we don't see the corpses, it's evident that the American victims were dismembered and mutilated while alive, in an effort to gain information. The soldiers are sickened at the sight and even Nelson is moved to tears, but the final reaction to the massacre is the formation of an indignant, cold-blooded resolve to "wipe all those Japs off the face of the Earth!" The same fury is communicated to the theater audience, making the film one of the more powerful statements about the nature of warfare.
Directed by Raoul Walsh with his usual expressive economy, Objective, Burma! seems a lot shorter than its 142 minutes. It was nominated for George Amy's editing, Franz Waxman's music score and Alvah Bessie's original story. But it was met with indignation in England, where veterans' groups objected to the portrayal of the Burma campaign as an all-American fight. The controversy was big enough to cause the movie to be pulled from British release for seven years.
Warner Home Entertainment's DVD set Errol Flynn Adventures is a fat package containing excellent new transfers. After years of seeing gray 16mm TV prints, these new restorations revive the films' excellent contrast and sharp focus. Edge of Darkness once existed in damaged prints, often with its flashback bookends removed. Objective, Burma! is the only title in the collection already out on disc, but this pressing is new and not repackaged. A commentary is offered featuring Rudy Behlmer, Jon Burlingame and Frank Thompson.
Each film is on its own disc and has been given the full Warner Night at the Movies treatment, with newsreels, trailers and short subjects from the year of its release. Military Band short subjects share space with novelty music items, and morale building shorts celebrating America's men in uniform. Burgess Meredith plays a dead-shot tail gunner for one patriotic short, and Dane Clark and Ronald Reagan show up several times each. The set also contains seven cartoons, including Robert Clampett's hilarious musical insult to Hitler, Russian Rhapsody, the non-PC classic about "Gremlins from the Kremlin". Frank Tashlin's Abbott & Costello take-off A Tale of Two Mice is here as well.
For more information about Errol Flynn Adventures, visit Warner Video. To order Errol Flynn Adventures, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
Errol Flynn Adventures - OBJECTIVE, BURMA! & 4 More in the New ERROL FLYNN ADVENTURES DVD box set
Edge of Darkness
First there was the weather. Filming began on the California coast in Monterey, but thick fog put the production on hold for several weeks and sent Flynn to bed suffering from sinus problems. Eventually the movie had to be finished in a Burbank studio. It seems the weather also left Flynn with a little too much time on his hands, and according to rumor, he and on-screen love interest Ann Sheridan began an affair that reportedly came to blows when Sheridan's husband, actor George Brent, caught the pair together. As the story has it, Flynn beat up Brent. But whether these rumors were true or not, the marriage was in fact over. Sheridan and Brent divorced in January 1943, just a few months before Edge of Darkness was released.
But that wasn't the worst of it. While stories of on-the-set romances were a dime a dozen in Hollywood, the next charges leveled at Flynn were more serious and not so easily dismissed -- the star was charged with statutory rape. Flynn admitted meeting his accuser, a girl named Betty Hansen, at a party, but claimed none too wisely, "I barely touched her." The charge was initially thrown out by a grand jury, but the District Attorney decided to pursue the case anyway. It seems he remembered a similar allegation brought by another girl. Her name was Peggy Satterlee, and there was no doubt that Flynn knew her well. She had worked as an extra on They Died With Their Boots On (1941) and had been a guest on Flynn's yacht, the Sirocco. It was there that the incident reportedly occurred. Satterlee told her mother she'd been raped, was examined by a doctor who substantiated the claim and called police. But when she was asked who her attacker had been, her reply of "Errol Flynn" was not taken seriously - at first.
Now with two such charges, Flynn was arrested, fingerprinted and put in a cell between a kidnapping suspect and a man charged with murder. The subsequent legal proceedings lasted four months, during which time Flynn found it difficult to work. Jack Warner had originally brushed the issue aside, assuming it was just some fan's wishful thinking. But he soon realized the seriousness of the charges, hired a lawyer for Flynn and rushed Gentleman Jim (1942) into theaters hoping to beat any negative trial publicity. Unfortunately, that idea backfired, and Flynn was being booed around the country. On the set of Edge of Darkness, Flynn appeared depressed and spent a lot of time, as director Lewis Milestone remembers, writing his memoirs.
Edge of Darkness wrapped thirty days behind schedule, partly due to Flynn's legal proceedings, but also because of Milestone's slow pace. It was the director's first Warner Bros. film in two decades (the last had been The Caveman, 1926). The story for Edge of Darkness had been based on a novel by William Woods but differed dramatically in tone from Wood's work, which critics claimed sympathized with the Nazis. The book managed to remain objective, condemning the action of the characters without condemning the characters. But the film, adapted by future director Robert Rossen, took more of a traditional approach, making the Nazis into typical Hollywood villains. Edge of Darkness also showed a very different side of Milestone. Probably best known for directing All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), still considered one of the greatest anti-war films ever made, Edge of Darkness goes far in the other direction. It even features a priest machine gunning Nazis.
Errol Flynn was acquitted by a jury in February of 1943. Edge of Darkness was released in March and was naturally overshadowed by talk of Flynn's off screen exploits. The phrase, "in like Flynn," came into common usage following the trial. It originally meant "in favor" or as the first recorded citation in American Speech uses it, "having no more trouble than Errol Flynn in his cinematic feats." It wasn't until later that the phrase took on a different meaning - alluding to Flynn's power as a seducer.
Producer: Henry Blanke
Director: Lewis Milestone
Screenplay: Robert Rossen, based on the novel by William Woods
Art Direction: Robert M. Haas
Cinematography: Sidney Hickox
Editing: David Weisbart
Music: Franz Waxman
Cast: Errol Flynn (Gunnar Brogge), Ann Sheridan (Karen Stensgard), Walter Huston (Dr. Martin Stensgard), Nancy Coleman (Katja), Helmut Dantine (Captain Koenig), Judith Anderson (Gerd Blarnesen), Ruth Gordon (Anna Stensgard), John Beal (Johann Stensgard), Morris Carnovsky (Sixtus Andresen).
By Stephanie Thames
Edge of Darkness
A working title of the film was Norway in Revolt. The New York Times review notes that this was one of several films about the Norweigan resistance made around this time. Others include the 1942 film The Commandos Have Landed, and First Comes Courage and Commandos Strike at Dawn, both released in 1943. Hollywood Reporter news items add the following information about the production: Warner Bros. paid $30,000 for the rights to William Woods's novel. Army and Navy officials gave permission to film in Del Monte, CA, a restricted military area surrounding the Monterey Presidio. Other scenes were shot in Monterey Bay, CA, at Cannery Row in Monterey, in the Del Monte forest and in coves near Cypress Point. According to a September 27, 1942 New York Times article, the studio used two piers in Monterey and a fleet of local fishing boats.
Other Hollywood Reporter news items add that a new type of zoom lens was built especially for this film. It employed variable focal lengths which enabled the camera operator to change constantly from long shots to extreme closeups without moving the camera itself. This lens was used to photograph the battle scenes from across high gullies and allowed the distance shots to be easily interspersed with closeups of the action. A press release included in the file on the film at the AMPAS Library reports that Hans Stesness, the minister of St. Olav's Church for Norwegian Seamen near the Los Angeles harbor, acted as the technical director of the church scenes in the film and lent a robe to Richard Fraser, who acted the role of the village pastor. The Argentine government refused the film an exhibition permit, claiming that the film would compromise the country's neutrality.