An uncompromising and often brutal war film. Kelly and Aumont star as French soldiers who are among those who surrender to the Germans at the fall of France in 1940. They are herded into boxcars and shipped to a concentration camp where they are subjected to sadistic treatment and brutal
conditions. Lorre is at his most vicious as the demented Nazi sergeant, tossing a loaf of bread from a full basket onto the dirty floor of a barracks to see the starving prisoners tear at each other for a morsel. Later, Hardwicke, a priest interned with the soldiers, offers a mass. Lorre attends,
listens briefly, then shoots the priest, killing him. Kelly goes berserk and attacks Lorre, which only leads to even more savage treatment for the defiant prisoner. He is eventually sent to the infirmary where Aumont works. Aumont plans an escape, taking the injured Kelly along and, with the help
of underground workers, they reach a small village. A German detachment arrives a short time later to take all males into a labor battalion. Aumont pretends to volunteer but, once in front of the villagers, excitedly denounces the Germans and encourages everyone to resist. He is summarily shot to
death by a German officer, and Kelly, who up to this time has been in a semicomatose state, suddenly leads the villagers in a wholesale attack on the Germans, wiping out the Nazis to the last man in a wild battle. The villagers then burn their town to the ground in a "scorched earth" tactic,
similar to that being practiced against the Germans in Russia, and the entire town migrates into unoccupied territory to continue the fight against the Nazi regime.
The propaganda in this WW II film is thick and "La Marseillaise" is sung at the drop of helmet. The overacting is rampant, even from Kelly, who usually practiced restraint in his dramatic roles. Garnett directed with his usual gusto but his story is overcome with senseless brutality which deadens
the viewer by the end of the first reel. Harry Truman, then a senator and on a political errand in Los Angeles, visited the set of CROSS OF LORRAINE and met Lorre just after he had been practicing torture on the French prisoners. With Truman was MGM boss Louis B. Mayer who approached the small,
eccentric actor, saying: "Well, Peter, you look fit--almost as if being a storm trooper agreed with you." Lorre, who was as Jewish as Mayer, smirked and startled Mayer and Truman by wryly remarking: "Oh yes, sir, it does. I eat a Jew every morning for breakfast." With that Mayer beat a hasty
retreat with Truman in tow.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: An uncompromising and often brutal war film. Kelly and Aumont star as French soldiers who are among those who surrender to the Germans at the fall of France in 1940. They are herded into boxcars and shipped to a concentration camp where they are subjected… (more)