Customer Reviews: The Mortal Storm
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on January 19, 2010
It's amazing how few reviews were found for this film....but then, it isn't. There are lots of absolute gems that modern classic-movie buffs often miss, for whatever reason---"Mortal Storm" doesn't often show up on the lists of usual must-sees, but it should. This picture is chillingly real---even with the MGM treatment, it's a realistic portrayal of what the horrors of World War II did to nice, decent, everyday people. It's tragic, but so well acted that you can't take your eyes off it. Margaret Sullavan was a huge star in the 30's and 40's, and this role shows her at her best. The lady had talent, and she will take you on a roller-coaster ride of emotions.
Perennially reliable Jimmy Stewart is fine as the principled young man who loves her despite being in mortal danger. Frank Morgan turns in his usual top-quality support as Sullavan's stepfather, and--surprise--you'll end up hating good old "Father Knows Best"/"Marcus Welby" star Robert Young. If you have any love of good classic film at all--do not miss this.
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on April 24, 2008
This is one of the greatest movies ever made. The character development, storyline, and growing tension all combine for a must-see. Almost every actor/actress deliver exceptional performances, led of course by Jimmy Stewart. It is a stunningly sad, yet noble story that takes place as the Nazis destroy warm families, lifelong friends, and intellectual inquiry. I hope this makes it onto DVD since it is a valuable time capsule portraying events that must never be forgotten.
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This gripping story begins on the the eve of Hitler being named as chancellor in 1933, in a small town at the foot of the German Alps...and how it affects a non Aryan family, and their courageous friend, a veterinarian, played by James Stewart in a wonderful, warm and winning performance...Maria Ouspenskaya is also memorable in the role of his mother.
It's surprising that this film isn't more well known. It has a fascinating cast, and the story keeps one's interest in every scene. The cinematography is excellent, especially towards the end, in a chase scene on skis.
Sad and tender, intense and so well acted, it's a tale that honors freedom of thought and individuality...and shouldn't be missed.
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on June 15, 2010
When I first saw this movie as a junior high school student in the mid 1960s I confess that I wept at the movies climax and ending and simultaneously got a serious adolescent crush on Magaret Sullivan which lasted a long time. She is one of the great actresses of American film and her voice is absolutely unique - light,tremulous and expressive, like no other.

There are some films you see and never forget and this is one of them. The Mortal Storm was made in 1940, over 18 months before the U.S went to war. Its depiction of the Nazis is not over the top evil or cartoonish - it is chilling and terrifying. It was also a brave film for MGM to make in 1940 - so much for the MGM image of only making nice, safe, family pictures.

The movie depicts the intrusion of the Nazi totalitarian state in 1933 {in a small university town} into an German upper middle class family that will divide and destroy it. Hitler comes to power at the moment that Professor Roth {Frank Morgan} is celebrating his 60th birthday with his wife, step sons, son, daughter {Margaret Sullivan} and friendly rivals for Freya - Jimmy Steward {Martin Breitner} and Robert Young {Fritz Marburg}.

While Professor Roth is toasting his families humor and tolerance you can see the family and friends dividing as the radio blares the news of Hiltler gaining power while the birthday cake is being cut. Professor Roth is a renowed / distingished professor who is Jewish {in the movie "Non Aryan"} and the gradual descent from ostracism in the town/university, to a student boycott of his classes to broken inmate in a concentration camp is exrcruciatingly painfull to watch. While he is Jewish, his wife and older stepsons are not while his daughter and son are 1/2 Jewish. These facts immediate target the family to the local Nazi party boss and his thugs.

The movie depicts the entire Nazi horror - the burning of books by students, the co-opting of the young into the party, the brownshirted stormtroopers beating up anyone who is different, the mindless conformism and cultivation of hardness and devotion of duty to the state above all else. Jimmy Steward gives a strong and sensitive performance as the lone hold out amoung the friends in joining the Nazi party because he values his right to think and speak freely. Robert Young is surprisingly effective as an earnest conformist and opportunist who joins the Nazis for power and loses Freya to Martin as a result. Frank Morgan gives one of his best performances at first proud, then bewildered and finally crushed and broken professor - seeing him shuffle into the waiting area of the concentration camp for a last meeting with his wife {Irene Rich} is heartbreaking.

The Roth family flees to Austria after one of Roth's stepsons {a young Robert Stack}who is now a Nazi Brownshirt who informs the his mother and Freya of Professor Roth's death telling them that he is "finally free". Freya is prevented from leaving Germany with her mother and brother because of a treatise on science and bloodtypes written by her father that she was taking with her for sentmental reasons. This document is contrary to Nazi ideology and as a result she is forbidden to leave Germany and her passport is confiscated. This leads to the climax of the film where Martin with and Freya attempt to reach Austria thru a pass in deep snow using ski's thru the mountains in a trail known only to Martin.

The Brownshirts/Nazis discover the plan and Fritz is exhorted and shamed by the local Nazi leader to do his duty and hunt them down without mercy. By using automobiles the squad reachs the area where Freya and Martin to reach Austria have to emerge into the open and while Martin and Freya are making a mad dash sking down the mountain, Freya is shot and dies even as they have made it to freedom.

While breaking the news to Freya' brothers Fritz with false bravado claims that he had "no choice" but to give the order to shoot at them and "do his duty" !! The marvelous Maria Ouspenskaya plays Jimmy Steward's mother and her scene with them toasting to their future happiness with the Brides cup knowing she will never see them again is as heartbreaking a scene and performance that I have ever watched in a film.

Frank Borzage does a masterfull job in directing the film. I haven't 1/2 described the one after another great individual set-piece scenes in the movie that he infuses with his special directorial touch. Frank Morgan's performance will be a revelation to those viewers only familar with his dithering "Professor Marvel" in the Wizard of Oz - showing what a fine serious actor he could be. Margaret Sullivan's touching and glowing performance that mixes vunerability and strenght is the heart of a movie that after 70 + years is still powerfull, disturbing and revelant. I give this movie 5 stars and my strongest recommendation to add it to your film library.
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on March 19, 2002
Frank Borzage's 1940 masterpiece "The Mortal Storm" was one of the very first "Anti-Nazi" films Hollywood has produced during WW2.
Despite the fact that "The Mortal Storm" may seem a little bit dated, if not obscure nowadays (always keep in mind this movie features Jimmy Stewart playing a German small town boy!) it nevertheless tells its story with great careness and even greater characterizations, establishing its director, Frank Borzage, as one of the most underrated filmmakers of all time!
Like so many other Hollywood pros from the golden age, like say Michael Curtiz, Raoul Walsh or Howard Hawks, Borzage was one of the key directors who deeply felt for the characters in their movies and who were able to tell a story "straight forward", in a very own and unique kind of way.
Borzage was also a master of the "mise en scene": You only have to watch the camera movements in the "taverne" scenes, and/or the "diner" scenes in the professor's house. Especially the last big scene (my favorite in the whole movie!), when Margaret Sullivan's brother realises how evil the seed has already grown, he turns his face aside, walks behind (!) the camera, the camera takes his place and moves slowly through the professor's house, rests from time to time at various objects and interiors, while voice overs from the main characters are reminding us of the story's most significant events that took place earlier in these rooms and these locations (like the diner scene mentioned above, in which Stack asked for the hand of the professor's daughter, and were they first heard of the news that Hitler took over) and of happier days long gone now (the statue that was handed out to the professor as a birthday present through two of his students). These moments are cinema in its purest form. Really mesmerizing! And when Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan were heading for the Austrian border, spirits of the legendary final scenes from Jean Renoir's "Grand Illusion" come to mind! This says a lot about Frank Borzage's attitude and that was the league he actually played in.
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on June 19, 2011
It is a discgrace that Warner would release such a lousy print of such a great movie. The movie is one of Jimmy Stewart's hard to find movies - I actually have it on VHS and as a movie, it deserves 5 stars.

However, the print from Warner Archives is horrible. I was excited at being able to get some movies that were not on DVD before through warner archives and made the mistake of ordering 4 films. I already had 3 on VHS, but wanted them on DVD.

One of my purchases is The Mortal Storm - a great WWII drama. THis is one of Jimmy Stewart's finest films, despite being lessor known by some causal fans and its unfortunate that Warner doesn't see fit to give it a proper release. Unfortunately, the Warner Archive release picture quality is probably worse then then my VHS tape and is clearly MUCH worse then the print quality you would see when the Turner Classic movie channel plays it on TV from time to time. While the picture quality of the Mortal Storm was slightly better then Mr. Lucky (another great film -lousy transfer, that I also reviewed), it is far below what a film of this quality deserves.

It is disgraceful not only for Warner to be giving such crappy transfers to great films, but it is equally disgraceful to charge classic movie fans for films that have worse print quality then what the would see on TV when TCM plays the films and even worse then the old VHS tape was!!!

I've still got around 200 classic films on VHS and another 500 or so classics now on DVD/Blu-Ray, however I will NOT be purchasing any more Warner Classic films, even though there were around 50 or 60 titles I was interested in picking up - many of which I used to have on VHS and some that weren't available on VHS before.

I know a lot of people are just happy to see some of the Warner Archive titles on DVD, but as the paying public, we should not be supporting their hosing us by putting out such crappy quality of some of the best movies made!!
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on August 13, 2011
This very fine film is one of many re-issued by the Warner Archive Collection on a burn-on-demand basis. This means that the DVDs are burned to sell as they are ordered, rather than pressed in large quantities, as most DVDs found in shops are manufactured. Burn-on-demand discs do not have a silvery flip side; they have a purplish or bluish hue.

It should also be noted here, for Amazon customers wishing to trade-in this or any of the other Warner Archive Collection DVD titles through Amazon's buy back program, that the purchasing agent located in Hudson, New Hampshire, does not consider burn-on-demand DVDs to be a correct format and will return them to the seller. This, despite their inclusion of a "trade-in" link on virtually every WAC DVD title listed on the website. Expect any WAC DVD titles to be returned to you, if you attempt to trade them in through Amazon.
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A chilling and surprisingly effective political drama detailing Germany's transition from a center of European high civilization into the totalitarian paranoia of the Nazi regime. Jimmy Stewart is a free-thinking, kind hearted Everyman, whose best friends turn on him when he refuses Party membership, and whose life and career are destroyed by the people who were once his neighbors and confidants. The sense of horror and surprise at how swiftly things changed is made manifest in this film, which is one of Hollywood's most effective pre-war antifascist propaganda films. Margaret Sullavan plays opposite Stewart, and once again adds a nice touch to her role as the girl he loves, and the daughter of an eminent scientist who runs afoul of the local Nazi fanatics. Robert Stack also appears, so young (and so blond!) that you'll hardly recognize him. A powerful film; well worth watching.
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on February 1, 1999
No one who has lived in this century should avoid conducting a serious reflection on whether or not he or she would have had the courage to recognize and oppose trends of profound evilness, within their civilization, had they lived in Nazi Germany prior to World War II. The Mortal Storm provides one with such an opportunity. The film, produced in 1940, is not in any way limited by being mindful of its wartime anti-nazi message. This is melodrama at its finest, no mere propaganda film. The film is set in an alpine, university town in southern Germany near the Austrian border. It opens on the occasion of the celebration of the sixtieth birthday of a universally revered science professor at both his university and later at his home. His three stepsons, although respectful of his humanitarianism, are more swept up by the promises a Nazi Germany holds for their youthful, male vanities. The professor, his wife, his daughter Freya (Margaret Sullavan), and family friend Martin (Jimmy Stewart) demonstrate an unhappy skepticism towards this regime, and this becomes the basis for evolving tensions which are not explored by deep philosophy but in melodramatic ways that are not always predictable, and very moving even when you know they're coming. When the nationalistic disloyalties of Martin and Freya become established, they are forced to seek an escape, their romantic interest having been nurtured by their mutual respect for each other's courage confronting the evil of escalating nazi sentiment. The blessing they receive from Martin's mother prior to their departure is one of the most poignant scenes in film history. This wartime film has the rare grace of not demonizing the whole of German culture and tradition for the mass moral insanity that frequently envelops all civilizations and requires a rarefied courage to resist. The English speaking cast does not subtract from the sense of alpine authenticity, and the overriding decency of his character, a Stewart trademark, enables the viewer to ignore Stewart's inability to shed his Midwestern accent for the role. It amuses rather than distracts. Except for Stewart's more famous film, It's a Wonderful Life, melodrama doesn't get any better than this.
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on November 17, 2010
The Mortal Storm is a powerful movie that will haunt you long after you have watched it. It begins at Adolph Hitler's rise to power in the early 30's and the advent of the Hitler movement in the Universities. Though never mentioned by name and treated quite kindly, it shows the beginning of the purging of the Jews.

Thoughts and opinions and loyalties are challenged. Those who disagree are ostracized and beaten and jailed. Families and lifelong friends are torn apart and turn on one another.

Everywhere is fear and anger. Any slight difference of opinion is seen as a threat to the state and is harshly punished. The political tone is so toxic that people begin the attempts at fleeing their country.

It is brilliantly acted by the young James Stewart, Margaret Sullavan and Robert Young and by the veteran Frank Morgan.

This is a film that should be shown in every history class. This movie has stayed in my thoughts for decades.
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