Cast & Crew
Sir Cedric Hardwicke
Lee J. Cobb
George Corell, a general store owner in a small Norwegian mining village, has secretly arranged for the German Army to invade and occupy the town. On the appointed day, Corell sends the town's inhabitants and tiny militia on a picnic, and the German forces, led by Col. Lanser, quickly move in. Six of the militiamen are killed by machine gun fire as they try to repel the enemy, and the stunned townspeople surrender. Lanser interviews Mayor Orden and his wife Sarah, and the town's historian and doctor, Albert Winter, who are outraged to learn of Corell's treachery. Lanser explains that Germany needs the town's iron and warns Orden that the village will be destroyed if the miners do not work hard. The doctor tells Lanser that the Norwegians still have peacetime values, and that it will take time to learn to relinquish their free will. Soon after, Corell visits Lanser, who despises the traitor as much as Orden does. Although Corell has been injured by a thrown rock, he refuses to believe that the townspeople have turned against him. Lanser advises Corell that he would be safer living elsewhere, but Corell insists on staying until he receives orders from Berlin. Lanser, who was a member of the forces invading Belgium and France during World War I, is worried that the villagers will rebel against their oppressors, and his fears are realized when mine worker Alex Morden kills the taunting Capt. Bentick. Alex is put on trial, and his wife Molly begs Orden to spare his life. Orden promises Molly that no Norwegian will sentence Alex to death, but despite Orden's request for leniency, the colonel orders a firing squad to shoot Alex. The squad's leader, young lieutenant Tonder, grows unhappy as the months pass and the occupying forces are treated with increasing hostility. The townspeople also attempt more daring acts of sabotage, even trying to alert the RAF to the mine's location so that it can be bombed. Lanser reluctantly retaliates by arresting and killing villagers at random, even though he knows that each death will make the saboteurs more determined. On the verge of a nervous breakdown, and unaware that Molly is the wife of the man he helped to execute, Tonder visits the young widow and confesses his love for her. Although the equally lonely Molly is tempted to accept his friendship, she remembers Alex and stabs Tonder to death with a pair of scissors. After Molly escapes to Sweden, English planes drop packets of dynamite with instructions on how the Norwegians can best resist the German infiltration. As explosions damaging German operations begin, Corell again visits Lanser and informs him that he has received orders from Berlin to hold Orden and Winter as hostages and execute them if the sabotage continues. Lanser protests, asserting that the executions will fuel stronger resistance, but finally has the mayor and doctor arrested. Orden bravely bids farewell to Sarah and their feisty cook Annie, then discusses the situation with Winter and Lanser. Drawing strength from Socrates' denunciation of his assassins, Orden tells Lanser that a mayor "isn't a man, it's an idea," and that his people will continue to fight for freedom. Lanser then receives word that an important warehouse has been dynamited, and Orden, Winter and the other hostages march with dignity to the gallows. As the men are hanged, the villagers sing of their love for their country, and their song is accompanied by the sound of more explosions.
Sir Cedric Hardwicke
Lee J. Cobb
Peter Van Eyck
William Post Jr.
E. J. Ballantine
Walter M. Scott
H. M. Waller
The Moon Is Down
Former actor Irving Pichel directed Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Henry Travers, Lee J. Cobb, Dorris Bowdon and Jeff Corey in the 1943 film, which also had in its cast a very young Natalie Wood and future Hogan's Heroes star John Banner as Lt. Prackle. Banner, of Jewish descent, had been acting on tour in Switzerland when Hitler aligned with his home country of Austria in 1938. Although he would survive, most of Banner's family perished in the concentration camps while he was in Hollywood playing Nazis.
This would be Bowdon's final film. A star of Fox's The Grapes of Wrath (1940), she retired after marrying Nunnally Johnson, who adapted Steinbeck's novel for the film and acted as producer. It was John Steinbeck himself who suggested that his personal friend Johnson do the adaptation, instructing him to "tamper with it," to make up for what Steinbeck felt were the cinematic limitations of the novel. He would later admit, "pictures are a better medium for this story than the stage ever was."
Irving Pichel shot this film both on the Fox lot in Los Angeles and on the same sets Fox created for How Green Was My Valley (1941) at Brent's Crags in Ventura County, California two years previously. For the mountain scenes, Pichel and his company trekked up to the ski resorts of Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead, east of Los Angeles.
The film premiered in Toronto, Canada on March 13, 1943 before opening in New York on March 26th. The New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther wrote in his review that Johnson as producer and screenwriter "has a picture which is the finest on captured Norway yet and a powerful expression of faith in the enduring qualities of a people whose hearts are strong. With the help of Irving Pichel's superlative direction and a generally excellent cast, he has realized the listless bewilderment of the Norwegians at the first shock of their fall, the surge of their bitter hostility and the slash of their resistance in the dark. Through the sober and dignified reasoning of the old Mayor of the invaded town, Mr. Johnson (and Mr. Steinbeck) has exposed the moral outrage of Nazi deeds. [...] In short, Mr. Johnson has made a picture which penetrates the mind with the most persuasive philosophical indictment of the "new order" that the screen is ever likely to contain. "
The Moon is Down was later broadcast on radio on the Screen Guild Theater program with Cedric Hardwicke reprising his role. Although Steinbeck was unaware at the time, resistance movements in Europe had secretly distributed copies of his novel during the war and later credited it with helping them stay strong while fighting the Nazis despite terrible reprisals.
By Lorraine LoBianco
SOURCES: Cozad, W. Lee, More Magnificent Mountain Movies
Crowther, Bosley "The Screen: 'The Moon is Down,' the Film Version of Steinbeck's Novel and Play, Starring Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Opens at Rivoli" The New York Times 27 Mar 43
The Internet Movie Database
Schultz, Jeffrey D. and Li, Luchen Critical Companion to John Steinbeck: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work
The Moon Is Down
The Moon is Down on DVD
Steinbeck's story of an evil military force occupying a nameless country had been written as an allegory, as something to foster philosophical thinking about the nature, consequences and morality of war and power, but for the movie, screenwriter/producer Nunnally Johnson made the names specific: the evil force was Nazis and the nameless country was Norway. It had been obvious to readers and theatergoers that a Nazi occupation of a Scandinavian country is what Steinbeck had in mind anyway; making it explicit, the film would carry more visceral relevance and propaganda value to moviegoers at the height of WWII.
Far more controversial was the characterization of the villain of the piece, the Nazi commander Col. Lanser, as intelligent, thoughtful, and altogether human. This was a far cry from the norm, and even today it is startling to see a Nazi in a 1943 film being portrayed as anything other than all-out evil. Make no mistake: Lanser is cruel and bad, just not simplistically so. He is also cultured and ruminative, and while he cares nothing about killing people, he only wants to do so if it will serve a useful purpose -- and he does not think mere killing will quell the urge of the Norwegian villagers to resist. Some critics of the era contended that Lanser was too human, but in fact his intellect makes his brutality all the more appalling and dangerous.
Cedric Hardwicke is outstanding as the blasé Lanser, which was a very hotly contested role in Hollywood at the time. Nunnally Johnson later said that he held talks with Orson Welles about playing the part, and tested other actors including Charles Laughton, Conrad Veidt and George Sanders.
The surface narrative of The Moon is Down is basically comprised of the Nazis easily invading a Norwegian town, forcing the villagers to operate their iron mine for the Nazis' gain, and the villagers resisting more and more, eventually with the help of airdropped weapons. But a large part of the film is an examination of the status quo in the form of a battle of minds and words between Col. Lanser and the two village leaders -- the mayor (Henry Travers) and the doctor (Lee J. Cobb). Lanser can't understand why the villagers wouldn't stop resisting if their leaders were killed, and the mayor and doctor can't understand why the Germans would think they wouldn't keep resisting. The politeness and earnestness of the dialogue exchanges makes for a powerful contrast with the very subject being debated. At times these dialogue-heavy scenes approach getting too contrived or theatrical, but the power of the words and their expert delivery ultimately wins out.
The Moon is Down grabs you right away with its striking title sequence of a map of Norway lying on a table, with what is meant to be Hitler's voice shrieking on the soundtrack in German and pointing at the map. And the film has a great ending, which, while predictable, is powerful and unexpected in the way that it unfolds. Through the bulk of the picture, director Irving Pichel and his cameraman Arthur Miller achieve starkly beautiful black-and-white visuals, including some memorable moments like the removal of hats before a hanging. The film used the same sets from How Green Was My Valley (1941), and certain camera angles are instantly recognizable.
Nunnally Johnson had produced and written The Grapes of Wrath, for which he was Oscar-nominated, and he did the same on this picture, working closely with Steinbeck. A former newspaper reporter, Johnson was one of the most prolific writers of "quality" films in Hollywood. He was also a good producer, surrounding Hardwicke, Travers and Cobb with an outstanding supporting cast right down to the bit players.
Peter Van Eyck in his screen debut plays a lonely Nazi desperate for some friendly social interaction with the bewildered locals; ultimately he meets his match in a village woman played well by Dorris Bowden. Bowden was an attractive actress on her way up in Hollywood, but she retired from the screen after this film when she gave birth to her first child -- with husband Nunnally Johnson!
E.J. Ballantine is perfect as the traitorous villager really in cahoots with the Nazis, a role he originated on stage. (He was the only holdover from the stage production.) Director Irving Pichel himself plays the innkeeper, a character that Johnson had written with Pichel in mind -- before Pichel was then chosen (by Johnson) to direct.
In smaller bits, look among the villagers for Jeff Corey, Charles McGraw, and five-year-old Natalie Wood in her second film (though the first to be released) as a little girl who is too scared to tell a German soldier her name. Pichel had discovered Wood, whose real name was Natasha Gurdin, in Santa Rosa, Calif., while casting Happy Land (1943), and he used her in that film, in The Moon is Down, and then in Tomorrow is Forever (1946), her first significant role.
John Steinbeck regularly visited the set. Later he wrote Johnson a letter with his impressions: "It seems to me you are getting on film some rather unique thing that I have only seen in one or two films in my life. There is a curious third dimension. I don't know how this is done, whether by lighting or photography or by the placing of the people, but it did seem that one looked deep into a scene rather than simply at it."
The Moon is Down looks and sounds perfectly acceptable on Fox Cinema Archives' no-frills DVD-R. The company has also just released two interesting curiosities from the same era: Berlin Correspondent (1942), starring Dana Andrews, and The Loves of Edgar Allan Poe (1942), starring Linda Darnell and Shepperd Strudwick (credited as "John Shepperd"). Both were produced by Bryan Foy when he was briefly working at Fox, and both look OK on DVD-R seventy years later.
By Jeremy Arnold
The Moon is Down on DVD
Filmed on the same sets used for the Welsh mining village in How Green Was My Valley (1941).
The film's title card reads, "Twentieth Century-Fox presents John Steinbeck's The Moon Is Down." Before the title card appears, a map of Norway is seen with a fist pounding on it, and a voice shouts in German that Norway must be conquered. The voice continues as the onscreen credits are shown. Nunnally Johnson's onscreen credit is "Produced and Written for the Screen by." Steinbeck's novel, which was his first since the 1939 publication of The Grapes of Wrath, and play were the targets of much criticism. Numerous reviewers considered the German characters too sympathetic, and complained that Steinbeck had oversimplified the complex issues involved in a resistance movement. Steinbeck maintained that his characters were more realistic due to their intelligence and humanity, and a number of modern sources report that The Moon Is Down was a highly esteemed piece of propaganda for many European resistance groups during the war.
A April 22, 1942 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that in addition to Twentieth Century-Fox, M-G-M, Paramount, Warner Bros., Samuel Goldwyn and Hunt Stromberg were "in the market" for the rights to Steinbeck's book and play, and the April 29, 1942 Hollywood Reporter news item disclosing the sale to Twentieth Century-Fox noted that "the play went to 20th at Steinbeck's request because of his satisfaction with Darryl Zanuck's film version of his Grapes of Wrath." The news item also noted that the $300,000 paid to Steinbeck was "a record for outright purchase" of a novel, and that Zanuck intended to produce the film personally. When Zanuck entered the military shortly afterward, however, screenwriter Nunnally Johnson was designated the film's producer. One of the changes made by Johnson in dramatizing Steinbeck's book and play was naming the invaded country as Norway and the invaders as Germans. In Steinbeck's works, the nationalities of the characters are not specified.
Contemporary sources reveal that a number of actors were tested for the role of "Col. Lanser." A July 31, 1942 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that George Sanders was "scheduled" to play the part, although he had just been placed on suspension by the studio for refusing a role in another film. According to a August 20, 1942 Hollywood Reporter news item, Twentieth Century-Fox had entered negotiations with Orson Welles to direct the picture and play Lanser, but a September 29, 1942 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that the "deal eventually fell through because Welles's numerous commitments and activities complicated the arrangements to the point where the picture might have been delayed." A October 1, 1942 Hollywood Reporter news item asserted, however, that Welles turned down the role "because the part...in the play is not to his liking," and noted that Welles May have been influenced by the "caustic criticism by both drama and literary critics" of "Steinbeck's portrayal of Colonel Lanser as a reasonable, understanding and sympathetic figure." A September 17, 1942 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that Otto Preminger had been signed for the part, while studio publicity and Hollywood Reporter news items noted that the following actors had been tested: Charles Laughton, Conrad Veidt, Alfred Lunt, Paul Lukas and Fritz Kortner.
According to a October 15, 1942 Hollywood Reporter news item, Dudley Digges was originally signed to play "Dr. Albert Winter." A June 4, 1942 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that William Eythe, who had appeared as "Lt. Tonder" in Steinbeck's play, had been placed under contract by Twentieth Century-Fox and would "likely" be reprising his role. The only member of the New York cast who did reprise his role was E. J. Ballantine, whose portrayal of "George Corell" marked his screen acting debut. According to a September 1942 Hollywood Reporter news item, Anna Sten was under consideration for "one of the leading feminine roles" in the production. A February 1943 press release includes Hans Wollenberger in the cast, but his appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed.
According to information in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the PCA objected that the sequence between "Molly" and "Lt. Tonder," during which she stabs him to death in her bedroom, was "sex suggestive." The PCA was also worried that the killing seemed "to be a murder, and not in any sense a killing in the line of military necessity." After voicing numerous concerns about the killing, the PCA finally granted the picture a certificate number, "issued on the understanding that you have deleted the scenes of the woman hiding the scissors under the pillow of the bed."
According to the film's pressbook, ice skating star Sonja Henie acted as a technical advisor on the language and costumes of her native Norway. An October 1942 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that fellow Norgwegian and technical advisor H. M. Waller was present in Norway at the time of its invasion by Germany. The pressbook also reported that director Irving Pichel viewed newsreel-type footage of the invasion of Norway to "get authentic data on how the German soldiers and Norwegian people conducted themselves during the conquest." Contemporary sources reported that most of the production was filmed on location at Brent's Crags, CA, in the same mining village set used for How Green Was My Valley. According to a September 1942 press release, Lake Arrowhead, CA, was the site of a sequence shot before the beginning of principal photography.
The picture marked the screen acting debut of Peter Van Eyck and the return to the screen of actress Dorris Bowdon, who was married to Nunnally Johnson. Bowdon's previous screen appearance was in the 1940 Twentieth Century-Fox film Jennie. Director Irving Pichel, who also appears in The Moon Is Down as the innkeeper "Peder," was married to Violette Wilson, who plays "Peder's wife." According to an February 11, 1943 studio publicity release, Sir Cedric Hardwicke directed the scenes featuring Pichel as Peder. According to a March 15, 1943 New York Times news item, the picture received its world premiere in the "Little Norway" section of Toronto, Canada, in a screening for three hundred members of the Royal Norwegian Air Force.
The film received good reviews upon its release, with many concurring that it was not likely to be subject to the same criticism as Steinbeck's book and play. Bosley Crowther, the New York Times reviewer, commented: "The noisy and passionate controversy aroused by The Moon Is Down when the John Steinbeck play and novel were presented something over a year ago, is not likely to be rekindled to any appreciable degree by the clear and incisive screen version." In a subsequent New York Times article, in which Crowther protested the "occasional expressions of misgiving [that] have been voiced by respectable folk," he stated, "The Moon Is Down is far and away the best conception of the human and moral issues involved when the Nazis took over a free country that the screen has yet manifested." The picture was named one of the ten best films of the year by the National Board of Review, and Hardwicke was listed as the third best actor of the year by the board.
According to a July 22, 1943 Hollywood Reporter news item, Nazi censors forced the Swedish government to ban the film. The news item also reported that the picture had recently been exhibited in London, where the exiled King of Norway was "most enthusiastic about it." The news item noted that the king believed that American criticism of "the portrayal of a sympathetic Nazi was unjust," and quoted his reaction as: "'Show a sympathetic Nazi, as this picture does, and it teaches people that the Nazis are not supermen-they are just ordinary people, cruel, but with the same weaknesses, the same thoughts. As a result, the cruelties they practice are doubly bad." In 1946, Steinbeck was awarded the Haakon VII Cross by the King of Norway in recognition of the contributions made by his novel to the Norwegian war effort.