Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Search (1948)

What happened to all the children whose parents died in the Holocaust? This film focuses on the plight of one such child, Karel 'Jimmy' Malick (Ivan Jandl), who was sent to a concentration camp and miraculously survived. However, he is a shell of a child, so scarred that he has largely lost his memory and afraid to even try to remember. Karel ends up running away because he doesn't understand the difference between American soldiers and German soldiers and doesn't understand he is safe. He eventually is befriended by a GI, Ralph 'Steve' Stevenson (Montgomery Clift) who takes care of him while they try to sort out who he is and what happened to his family.

Ivan Jandl as Karel 'Jimmy' Malick

This is an absolutely stunning film. Do you see that little face up there in the picture? He will break your heart into a thousand pieces. It is not just his though, the other little boys and girls will tear you apart too. The thing that I loved about this film is that it was one part documentary and one part silent film and one part drama. As such, it is one of the earlier examples (that I can list) of what is now commonly called a docudrama.

The boy who played Karel, was apparently a Czechoslovakian boy who couldn't speak a word of English, but had a face that conveyed emotion like nobody's business. I bring this up because Ivan had to learn all his lines phonetically and I think someone was smart enough not to load the film down with a ton of dialogue for him. Instead, they had the boy show his feelings and thoughts without words and the result was amazing. His face tells the story and does it brilliantly. The scenes where they let him be, without talking, ended up giving part of it a silent film feel which was perfect for the this film and the subject. What a brave little boy.

I also liked that a lot of this was filmed in postwar Germany. I say this because they show lots of streets completely lined in rubble where buildings once stood. The sheer amount of destruction is unfathomable for me because I have nothing (thankfully) in my experiences of which to compare. Then to think of families trying to live there and innocent children trying to grow-up there. It is ... sadness beyond words.

I should quickly mention a couple of the other stars. I really liked Aline MacMahon as Mrs. Murray, one of the ladies in charge of the children's homes. She was so compassionate without being overly sentimental and that was a difficult tightrope for her, I bet. And yes, Montgomery Clift was in this one as well. I still don't really like him much as a star, but he didn't do his famous fever acting (I guess he hadn't perfected the sweating and shaking technique yet) so I would say he did a good job in this one too.

I feel I should make a special note of the beautiful cinematography in this. I can't imagine the difficult task of trying to put such human tragedy on film. I don't know if it was the cinematographer or the director, Fred Zinnemann, that set up some of the shots, but they were beautiful. Like, for instance, the one below. They show restraint by not attempting to do a closer shot of the boy, they allow the beauty of the scene with this tiny boy, all alone, speak volumes to what the scene is about.

My only complaint about the entire film is that the ending felt abrupt. I won't ruin it for you, but I always hate when it feels like they say "Oh, we need to wrap this one up quick - end it now!" It doesn't leave it open, there is a definite resolution, but I really wanted a little more time to let the ending have an effect on me instead of having the shock of suddenly see the credits roll. This could easily be a personal preference though.

It is an understatement to say it is a crime and utterly unforgivable that this film is not on DVD. It is one that needs to be seen. I can't believe this masterpiece has not been released. Try to find it on TCM sometime - it is a beautiful, heartbreaking and wonderful film. I loved it. Even WITH Monty Clift in it. :-)


kda0121 said...

Although the ending may seem abrupt, I thought it was a perfect crescendo to the film. It provided that big emotional wallop that is sometimes lacking in today's movies. If this film doesn't tug at your heartstrings, then you have no strings in your heart.

AbbyNormal said...

I liked the emotional wallop, I just wanted time to wallow in the wallop.

I definitely agree about the heartstrings. Great movie. So glad this one was passed along to me.