This first entry in a series of omnibus films made for Showtime (and produced by Barbra Streisand), showcasing true stories of men and women who offered resistance to Nazi oppression, runs the gamut from the stilted nobility of the first episode to the inappropriate coyness of the second.
The valor of these people deserved more expressive direction and less mundane writing.
In "Mamusha," gentile nanny Mamusha (Elizabeth Perkins) risks her life by unofficially adopting her Jewish charge Mickey Stolowitzky (played at different ages by Michael Cameron and Fraser McGregor). Initially, Mamusha's employer Lydia Stolowitzky (Nicky Gudagni) waits for her missing husband in
the Russian-held town of Vilna. After Vilna falls to the anti-Semites, Mrs. Stolowitzky suffers a stroke but extracts a promise from Mamusha to pass off Mickey as her own child.
Drilling the boy with a new code of behavior (without having him deny his heritage in private), Mamusha maintains Mickey's bogus identity while making a living as a translator for her Jew-hating neighbors. Risking detection by slipping supplies to the Jewish underground, Mamusha also bravely slips
a Jewish doctor through the sewers to avoid the risk of bringing the boy to a gentile doctor. At the war's end, she keeps her promise to Lydia by moving with Mickey to Israel.
In "Woman on a Bicycle," pious Catholic rectory secretary Marie-Rose Geneste (Sela Ward) is compelled by her religious convictions to do resistance work, even though she's never so much as met a Jewish person. Prompted by local church leader, Bishop Theas (Fritz Weaver), Marie-Rose prints and
delivers anti- Nazi propaganda. She helps hide Jews in a convent and delivers Bishop Theas's latest polemic, a sermon that results in his death by firing squad. Filling the void left by the Bishop's death, Marie-Rose even sequesters Jewish refugees in her house after they jump off a concentration
camp-bound train. She continues defying the Germans until the Allies are victorious.
Resolutely on the side of the angels, RESCUERS: STORIES OF COURAGE: TWO WOMEN functions as a sort of blazing flashback through a darkened corner of world history. It's invaluable as a teaching aid, but as drama, it's regrettably uninspired. Director Peter Bogdanovich does little to mold his
material, failing to move the audience in the emotionally draining way these stories demand. "Mamusha" offers ample opportunities for suspense as Mamusha improvises motherhood, but Bogdanovich doesn't build on them. "Woman on a Bicycle" is even more lackluster because it treats its heroine's
defiant deeds with a wink. Instead of dramatizing this simple woman's dawning of conscience, we get a blandly narrated run-down of her courage under fire. As Marie-Rose, Sela Ward is unbearably precious. Neither she nor any cast member is convincing as a European. Ultimately, the oppressed Jews
and their partisan Gentile underground deserve a revisitation of history that heals old wounds, not the superficial application of a bandage that is supplied by RESCUERS. (Violence, profanity, adult situations.)
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