The Seventh Cross (1944)
“Daringly Real . . . Startlingly Frank! The revealing novel of a hunted man’s search for love!”
Director: Fred Zinnemann
Cast: Spencer Tracy, Signe Hasso, Hume Cronyn
Synopsis: In Nazi Germany in 1936 seven men escape from a concentration camp. The camp commander puts up seven crosses and, as the Gestapo returns each escapee he is put to death on a cross.
Although this movie was made in 1944 and concerns a concentration camp escapee fleeing from the Nazis, it would be wrong to classify it as US wartime propaganda. It is, in fact, a reminder to the people of a nation on the verge of victory that no population can be judged as a whole, that within an evil regime decent and honest people can and do exist. It is remarkable to consider that an American movie made during WWII would feature heroic figures who are almost exclusively German. Admittedly, these Germans aren’t jackbooted Nazis, but neither are they all persecuted Jews: they are, in fact, ordinary people trying to live their lives without falling foul of the Gestapo — factory workers, architects, waitresses, etc.
Spencer Tracy gives a typically accomplished performance as George Heisler, a cynical, embittered man, one of seven escapees from a concentration camp, who must flee the country if he is to have any chance of survival. To do this he must rely on the kindness and heroism of strangers who stand to gain nothing by risking their lives to try to save his. The gradual restoration of Heisler’s faith in human nature is handled intelligently, without over-sentimentalising, and even manages to include some gentle humour at times. The movie’s pace never flags throughout, although one does have to question why the makers felt it necessary to insert some romantic interest a mere 10 minutes from the end of the movie, a decision that disrupts the flow of the story and brings it to a premature halt.
The entire cast is believable, especially Hume Cronyn — appearing for the first time with his future-wife Jessica Tandy — who is outstanding as Paul Roeder.
(Reviewed 3rd May 2002)