The Moon Is Down (1943)

90 mins | Drama | 9 April 1943

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HISTORY

The film's title card reads, "Twentieth Century-Fox presents John Steinbeck's The Moon Is Down ." Before the title card appears, a map of Norway is seen with a fist pounding on it, and a voice shouts in German that Norway must be conquered. The voice continues as the onscreen credits are shown. Nunnally Johnson's onscreen credit is "Produced and Written for the Screen by." Steinbeck's novel, which was his first since the 1939 publication of The Grapes of Wrath , and play were the targets of much criticism. Numerous reviewers considered the German characters too sympathetic, and complained that Steinbeck had oversimplified the complex issues involved in a resistance movement. Steinbeck maintained that his characters were more realistic due to their intelligence and humanity, and a number of modern sources report that The Moon Is Down was a highly esteemed piece of propaganda for many European resistance groups during the war.
       A 22 Apr 1942 HR news item announced that in addition to Twentieth Century-Fox, M-G-M, Paramount, Warner Bros., Samuel Goldwyn and Hunt Stromberg were "in the market" for the rights to Steinbeck's book and play, and the 29 Apr 1942 HR news item disclosing the sale to Twentieth Century-Fox noted that "the play went to 20th at Steinbeck's request because of his satisfaction with Darryl Zanuck's film version of his Grapes of Wrath ." The news item also noted that the $300,000 paid to Steinbeck was "a record for outright purchase" of a novel, and that Zanuck intended to produce the film personally. When Zanuck entered the military shortly afterward, however, screenwriter Nunnally ... More Less

The film's title card reads, "Twentieth Century-Fox presents John Steinbeck's The Moon Is Down ." Before the title card appears, a map of Norway is seen with a fist pounding on it, and a voice shouts in German that Norway must be conquered. The voice continues as the onscreen credits are shown. Nunnally Johnson's onscreen credit is "Produced and Written for the Screen by." Steinbeck's novel, which was his first since the 1939 publication of The Grapes of Wrath , and play were the targets of much criticism. Numerous reviewers considered the German characters too sympathetic, and complained that Steinbeck had oversimplified the complex issues involved in a resistance movement. Steinbeck maintained that his characters were more realistic due to their intelligence and humanity, and a number of modern sources report that The Moon Is Down was a highly esteemed piece of propaganda for many European resistance groups during the war.
       A 22 Apr 1942 HR news item announced that in addition to Twentieth Century-Fox, M-G-M, Paramount, Warner Bros., Samuel Goldwyn and Hunt Stromberg were "in the market" for the rights to Steinbeck's book and play, and the 29 Apr 1942 HR news item disclosing the sale to Twentieth Century-Fox noted that "the play went to 20th at Steinbeck's request because of his satisfaction with Darryl Zanuck's film version of his Grapes of Wrath ." The news item also noted that the $300,000 paid to Steinbeck was "a record for outright purchase" of a novel, and that Zanuck intended to produce the film personally. When Zanuck entered the military shortly afterward, however, screenwriter Nunnally Johnson was designated the film's producer. One of the changes made by Johnson in dramatizing Steinbeck's book and play was naming the invaded country as Norway and the invaders as Germans. In Steinbeck's works, the nationalities of the characters are not specified.
       Contemporary sources reveal that a number of actors were tested for the role of "Col. Lanser." A 31 Jul 1942 HR news item noted that George Sanders was "scheduled" to play the part, although he had just been placed on suspension by the studio for refusing a role in another film. According to a 20 Aug 1942 HR news item, Twentieth Century-Fox had entered negotiations with Orson Welles to direct the picture and play Lanser, but a 29 Sep 1942 HR news item announced that the "deal eventually fell through because Welles's numerous commitments and activities complicated the arrangements to the point where the picture might have been delayed." A 1 Oct 1942 HR news item asserted, however, that Welles turned down the role "because the part...in the play is not to his liking," and noted that Welles may have been influenced by the "caustic criticism by both drama and literary critics" of "Steinbeck's portrayal of Colonel Lanser as a reasonable, understanding and sympathetic figure." A 17 Sep 1942 HR news item stated that Otto Preminger had been signed for the part, while studio publicity and HR news items noted that the following actors had been tested: Charles Laughton, Conrad Veidt, Alfred Lunt, Paul Lukas and Fritz Kortner.
       According to a 15 Oct 1942 HR news item, Dudley Digges was originally signed to play "Dr. Albert Winter." A 4 Jun 1942 HR news item noted that William Eythe, who had appeared as "Lt. Tonder" in Steinbeck's play, had been placed under contract by Twentieth Century-Fox and would "likely" be reprising his role. The only member of the New York cast who did reprise his role was E. J. Ballantine, whose portrayal of "George Corell" marked his screen acting debut. According to a Sep 1942 HR news item, Anna Sten was under consideration for "one of the leading feminine roles" in the production. A Feb 1943 press release includes Hans Wollenberger in the cast, but his appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed.
       According to information in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the PCA objected that the sequence between "Molly" and "Lt. Tonder," during which she stabs him to death in her bedroom, was "sex suggestive." The PCA was also worried that the killing seemed "to be a murder, and not in any sense a killing in the line of military necessity." After voicing numerous concerns about the killing, the PCA finally granted the picture a certificate number, "issued on the understanding that you have deleted the scenes of the woman hiding the scissors under the pillow of the bed."
       According to the film's pressbook, ice skating star Sonja Henie acted as a technical advisor on the language and costumes of her native Norway. An Oct 1942 HR news item noted that fellow Norgwegian and technical advisor H. M. Waller was present in Norway at the time of its invasion by Germany. The pressbook also reported that director Irving Pichel viewed newsreel-type footage of the invasion of Norway to "get authentic data on how the German soldiers and Norwegian people conducted themselves during the conquest." Contemporary sources reported that most of the production was filmed on location at Brent's Crags, CA, in the same mining village set used for How Green Was My Valley. According to a Sep 1942 press release, Lake Arrowhead, CA, was the site of a sequence shot before the beginning of principal photography.
       The picture marked the screen acting debut of Peter Van Eyck and the return to the screen of actress Dorris Bowdon, who was married to Nunnally Johnson. Bowdon's previous screen appearance was in the 1940 Twentieth Century-Fox film Jennie . Director Irving Pichel, who also appears in The Moon Is Down as the innkeeper "Peder," was married to Violette Wilson, who plays "Peder's wife." According to an 11 Feb 1943 studio publicity release, Sir Cedric Hardwicke directed the scenes featuring Pichel as Peder. According to a 15 Mar 1943 NYT news item, the picture received its world premiere in the "Little Norway" section of Toronto, Canada, in a screening for three hundred members of the Royal Norwegian Air Force.
       The film received good reviews upon its release, with many concurring that it was not likely to be subject to the same criticism as Steinbeck's book and play. Bosley Crowther, the NYT reviewer, commented: "The noisy and passionate controversy aroused by The Moon Is Down when the John Steinbeck play and novel were presented something over a year ago, is not likely to be rekindled to any appreciable degree by the clear and incisive screen version." In a subsequent NYT article, in which Crowther protested the "occasional expressions of misgiving [that] have been voiced by respectable folk," he stated, " The Moon Is Down is far and away the best conception of the human and moral issues involved when the Nazis took over a free country that the screen has yet manifested." The picture was named one of the ten best films of the year by the National Board of Review, and Hardwicke was listed as the third best actor of the year by the board.
       According to a 22 Jul 1943 HR news item, Nazi censors forced the Swedish government to ban the film. The news item also reported that the picture had recently been exhibited in London, where the exiled King of Norway was "most enthusiastic about it." The news item noted that the king believed that American criticism of "the portrayal of a sympathetic Nazi was unjust," and quoted his reaction as: "'Show a sympathetic Nazi, as this picture does, and it teaches people that the Nazis are not supermen--they are just ordinary people, cruel, but with the same weaknesses, the same thoughts. As a result, the cruelties they practice are doubly bad." In 1946, Steinbeck was awarded the Haakon VII Cross by the King of Norway in recognition of the contributions made by his novel to the Norwegian war effort. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
13 Mar 1943.
---
Daily Variety
10 Mar 43
p. 3.
Film Daily
10 Mar 43
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Apr 42
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Apr 42
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Apr 42
p. 1, 4
Hollywood Reporter
4 Jun 42
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Jul 42
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Aug 42
p. 1, 4
Hollywood Reporter
11 Sep 42
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Sep 42
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Sep 42
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Sep 42
pp. 2-3.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Oct 42
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Oct 42
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Oct 42
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Oct 42
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Oct 42
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Nov 42
p. 4, 9
Hollywood Reporter
18 Nov 42
pp. 2-3.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Dec 42
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Dec 42
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Dec 42
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Dec 42
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Jan 43
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Feb 43
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Mar 43
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Jul 43
p. 3.
Motion Picture Daily
10 Mar 43
p. 1, 3
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
13 Mar 43
p. 1201.
New York Times
15 Mar 43
p. 11.
New York Times
27 Mar 43
p. 8.
New York Times
4 Apr 1943.
---
Variety
10 Mar 43
p. 15.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
WRITER
Wrt for the screen by, Wrt for the scr by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
MUSIC
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
PRODUCTION MISC
Tech adv
Tech adv
Unit mgr
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Moon Is Down by John Steinbeck (New York, 1942) and his play of the same name (New York, 7 Apr 1942).
MUSIC
"We're Sailing Against England," composer undetermined.
SONGS
"Yes, We Love This Country," music by Rikard Nordraak, lyrics by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson.
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
John Steinbeck's The Moon Is Down
Release Date:
9 April 1943
Premiere Information:
World Premiere in Toronto: 13 March 1943
New York opening: 26 March 1943
Production Date:
18 November--late December 1942
addl shooting 14 January 1943
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century--Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
26 February 1943
Copyright Number:
LP12417
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
90
Length(in feet):
8,100
Length(in reels):
10
Country:
United States
PCA No:
8996
SYNOPSIS

George Corell, a general store owner in a small Norwegian mining village, has secretly arranged for the German Army to invade and occupy the town. On the appointed day, Corell sends the town's inhabitants and tiny militia on a picnic, and the German forces, led by Col. Lanser, quickly move in. Six of the militiamen are killed by machine gun fire as they try to repel the enemy, and the stunned townspeople surrender. Lanser interviews Mayor Orden and his wife Sarah, and the town's historian and doctor, Albert Winter, who are outraged to learn of Corell's treachery. Lanser explains that Germany needs the town's iron and warns Orden that the village will be destroyed if the miners do not work hard. The doctor tells Lanser that the Norwegians still have peacetime values, and that it will take time to learn to relinquish their free will. Soon after, Corell visits Lanser, who despises the traitor as much as Orden does. Although Corell has been injured by a thrown rock, he refuses to believe that the townspeople have turned against him. Lanser advises Corell that he would be safer living elsewhere, but Corell insists on staying until he receives orders from Berlin. Lanser, who was a member of the forces invading Belgium and France during World War I, is worried that the villagers will rebel against their oppressors, and his fears are realized when mine worker Alex Morden kills the taunting Capt. Bentick. Alex is put on trial, and his wife Molly begs Orden to spare his life. Orden promises Molly that no Norwegian will sentence Alex to death, but despite Orden's ... +


George Corell, a general store owner in a small Norwegian mining village, has secretly arranged for the German Army to invade and occupy the town. On the appointed day, Corell sends the town's inhabitants and tiny militia on a picnic, and the German forces, led by Col. Lanser, quickly move in. Six of the militiamen are killed by machine gun fire as they try to repel the enemy, and the stunned townspeople surrender. Lanser interviews Mayor Orden and his wife Sarah, and the town's historian and doctor, Albert Winter, who are outraged to learn of Corell's treachery. Lanser explains that Germany needs the town's iron and warns Orden that the village will be destroyed if the miners do not work hard. The doctor tells Lanser that the Norwegians still have peacetime values, and that it will take time to learn to relinquish their free will. Soon after, Corell visits Lanser, who despises the traitor as much as Orden does. Although Corell has been injured by a thrown rock, he refuses to believe that the townspeople have turned against him. Lanser advises Corell that he would be safer living elsewhere, but Corell insists on staying until he receives orders from Berlin. Lanser, who was a member of the forces invading Belgium and France during World War I, is worried that the villagers will rebel against their oppressors, and his fears are realized when mine worker Alex Morden kills the taunting Capt. Bentick. Alex is put on trial, and his wife Molly begs Orden to spare his life. Orden promises Molly that no Norwegian will sentence Alex to death, but despite Orden's request for leniency, the colonel orders a firing squad to shoot Alex. The squad's leader, young lieutenant Tonder, grows unhappy as the months pass and the occupying forces are treated with increasing hostility. The townspeople also attempt more daring acts of sabotage, even trying to alert the RAF to the mine's location so that it can be bombed. Lanser reluctantly retaliates by arresting and killing villagers at random, even though he knows that each death will make the saboteurs more determined. On the verge of a nervous breakdown, and unaware that Molly is the wife of the man he helped to execute, Tonder visits the young widow and confesses his love for her. Although the equally lonely Molly is tempted to accept his friendship, she remembers Alex and stabs Tonder to death with a pair of scissors. After Molly escapes to Sweden, English planes drop packets of dynamite with instructions on how the Norwegians can best resist the German infiltration. As explosions damaging German operations begin, Corell again visits Lanser and informs him that he has received orders from Berlin to hold Orden and Winter as hostages and execute them if the sabotage continues. Lanser protests, asserting that the executions will fuel stronger resistance, but finally has the mayor and doctor arrested. Orden bravely bids farewell to Sarah and their feisty cook Annie, then discusses the situation with Winter and Lanser. Drawing strength from Socrates' denunciation of his assassins, Orden tells Lanser that a mayor "isn't a man, it's an idea," and that his people will continue to fight for freedom. Lanser then receives word that an important warehouse has been dynamited, and Orden, Winter and the other hostages march with dignity to the gallows. As the men are hanged, the villagers sing of their love for their country, and their song is accompanied by the sound of more explosions. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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