Watch on the Rhine

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Watch on the Rhine is a 1943 American drama film directed by Herman Shumlin. The screenplay by Dashiell Hammett is based on the 1941 play of the same title by Lillian Hellman.

Contents

Plot

In 1940, German-born engineer Kurt Muller, his American wife Sara, and their children Joshua, Babette, and Bodo cross the Mexican border into the United States to visit Sara's brother David Farrelly and their mother Fanny in Washington, D.C. For the past seventeen years, the Muller family has lived in Europe, where Kurt responded to the rise of Nazism by engaging in anti-Fascist activities. Sara tells her family they are seeking peaceful sanctuary on American soil, but their quest is threatened by the presence of houseguest Teck de Brancovis, an opportunistic Romanian count who has been conspiring with the Germans in the nation's capital.

Teck searches the Mullers' room and discovers a gun and money intended to finance underground operations in Germany in a locked suitcase. Shortly after, the Mullers learn resistance worker Max Freidech has been arrested, and because he once rescued Kurt from the Gestapo, Kurt plans to return to Germany to assist Max and those arrested with him. Aware Kurt will be in great danger if the Nazis discover he is returning to Germany, Teck demands $10,000 to keep silent, and Kurt kills him. Realizing the dangers Kurt faces, Fanny and David agree to help him escape.

Time passes, and when the Mullers fail to hear from Kurt, Joshua announces he plans to search for his father as soon as he turns eighteen. Although distraught by the possibility of losing her son as well as her husband, Sara resolves to be brave when the time comes for Joshua to leave.

Production

The Lillian Hellman play had enjoyed a respectable run of 378 performances on Broadway,[1] and Jack L. Warner paid $150,000 for the screen rights [2] because he felt with its focus on patriotism it would make an ideal and prestigious propaganda film at the height of World War II.[3][4] Because Bette Davis was involved with Now, Voyager, producer Hal B. Wallis began searching for another actress for the role of Sara Muller while Hellman's lover Dashiel Hammett began writing the screenplay at their farm in Pleasantville, New York. Irene Dunne liked the material but felt the role was too small, and Margaret Sullavan expressed no interest whatsoever. Edna Best, Rosemary DeCamp, and Helen Hayes also were considered. For the role of Kurt Muller, Wallis wanted Charles Boyer, who felt his French accent was wrong for the character,[4] so the producer decided to cast Paul Lukas, who had originated the role on Broadway and had been honored by the Drama League of New York for his performance.[3] Meanwhile, Hammett was sidelined by an injured back, and by the time he was ready to resume work on the script Now, Voyager was close to completion. Wallis sent Davis, a staunch supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt and a fierce opponent of the Nazi Party, the screenplay-in-progress and she immediately accepted the offer.

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