The North Star (1943)



Director:   Lewis Milestone. 

Starring:  Anne Baxter (Marina Pavlova), Dana Andrews (Kolya Simonov), Walter Huston (Dr. Pavel Grigorich Kurin), Walter Brennan (Karp), Ann Harding (Sophia Pavlova), Jane Withers (Clavdia Kurin), Farley Granger (Damian Simonov), Erich von Stroheim (Dr. von Harden),  Dean Jagger (Rodion Pavlov), Eric Roberts (Grisha Kurin), Carl Benton Reid (Boris Stepanich Simonov), Ann Carter (Olga Pavlova), Esther Dale (Anna), Ruth Nelson (Nadya Simonova), Paul Guilfoyle (Iakin), Martin Kosleck (Dr. Richter).

a Ukrainian village under Nazi invasion, June 1941


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

A group of young people are going on a walking tour to Kiev from their village of North Star:.  The group includes two brothers, the older Kolya Simonov, who is in the air force, and the younger Damian Simonov; Marina Pavlova who has a relationship with Damian; Marina's friend Clavdia Kurin, who has a crush on Kolya; and her young brother Grisha Kurin. 

June 20, 1941.  The radio reports from Moscow that there are German troop movements on the Polish border.  But this ominous sounding news is somewhat lost in the excitement of this being the last day of school.  The principal of the high school praises Damian Simonov as the one with the highest marks in his class.  Later Damian and Marina dance at a celebration.  They then talk about Damian going off to the University of Kiev.  Marina is worried because they will be separated for a year, but Damian says that she will be going to the University of Kiev the following year. 

The next morning Damian, Kolya, Marina, Clavdia and Grisha set off for Kiev.  They sleep overnight in the out-of-doors.  The next day they catch a ride on the wagon driven by the older man Karp in a small caravan of wagons.  They sing happily on this sunny day.  Suddenly Kolya calls for silence.  He hears something strange.  It is the sound of many planes not far off.   The wagon convoy stops.  Soon the planes become visible and they start dropping their bombs.  Kolya orders everyone into the ditch.  A few bombs drop on the convoy destroying a few wagons.  A little boy and a man are killed.  Seeing the horror of death Marina comments: "We're not young any more." 

The German planes continue on to bomb North Star village.  Marina's sister is killed.  In all, eleven villagers are killed and thirty are wounded.  Boris Simonov tells the people that it is now time for revenge.  He asks all the able-bodied men to become guerilla fighters.  He says he will go to Comrade Petrov and get the guns that they will need.   Those who remain in the village are to destroy everything so nothing falls into the hands of the enemy.

The Germans soldiers are only about fifty miles away.  The physically able men on horseback gather together and Rodion Pavlov administers the oath that the men repeat.  Rodion tells the villagers that they will be needing supplies and information from them.  Then the men ride off. 

Boris Simonov picks up the guns, loads them on his truck and starts for the village.  As he approaches the wagon convoy, a German plane strafes his truck.  Boris is hit and his truck turns over.  Kolya and Damian rush to their father's aide, but he soon dies.  Kolya tells the others in the wagon convoy that he has to get to an air base as fast as possible.  He tells the others to load the weapons on the remaining carts and take them to the village.  

A German convoy heads to the village of North Star.  They have a force of 125 men to hold the village.  They will establish a field hospital and a dispensary in the village.  Drs. von Harden and Richter will be the managers of the hospital.  But as the Germans approach the village, a Ukranian girl on horseback sees them coming.  She reports back to her village that the Germans are coming.  The villagers set their homes afire.  The Germans see the fires and their convoy speeds up and rushes into the village with guns blazing, killing anyone in sight.  The soldiers start putting out the fires. 

The Germans gather the villagers together.  They ask them where are all the young men.  No one answers them.  Then they demand to see Rodion Pavlov, the leader of the Partisans, and his family.  After much hesitation, Mrs. Pavlov comes forward.  Since she refuses to tell them where her husband is, they take her inside one of the buildings where they break her right arm and right leg. 

Karp, Damian, Marina, Clavdia and Grisha are sleeping in a barn.  They hear a German convoy going past on the road.  Three motorcyclists park their cycles and head over to check out the barn.  Karp and Damian take their weapons and set up an ambush.  They kill the three Germans.  Now they have to get out of the area quickly.

Kolya is serving as the bombardier on Soviet bombers.  This is his fifth sortie.  As the plane dives down to hit the German tank column, the pilot is killed and the co-pilot is wounded.  Kolya takes over the controls of the plane and flies it back for another attempt.  The plane is hit even more and is transformed into a flying coffin.  Kolya tells the co-pilot to jump out of the plane, but the man is dead.  So Kolya dive bombs the tanks with his plane which explodes on impact with the convoy. 

The village doctor Kurin finds out that the Germans are holding the children at the hospital they set up and are using them to supply blood for German wounded.  But they often take too much blood from the children and they die.   Dr. Kurin tries to kill the two main surgeons with a knife but he is stopped.  Dr. von Harden, who has heard of the doctor, decides not to punish him and he is allowed to go free.

Damian agrees to fire on the German convoy to stop it so the others can drive the wagons across the main road.  Clavdia grabs a rifle and follows him.  Damian fires followed by Clavdia.  They hit two of the Germans on their motorcycles.  Others stop and start to search the area.  Their friends are able to cross the road without being spotted.  Impatient with the delay of Damian and Clavdia, Karp and Marina takes two rifles and go to find Damian.  Meanwhile, Damian is able to kill a couple more German soldiers.  But Clavdia fires and is badly wounded by return fire.  Damian grabs her and pushes her behind a tree.  But a German grenade finishes off Clavdia and blinds Damian.  Thinking they have killed the two Partisans, the German soldiers leave.  Karp and Marina find Damian and he tells them Clavdia is dead. 

Dr. Kurin meets with the Partisans to tell them that they have to save the children of the village.  An attack on the hospital is planned.  Even without the weapons having arrived, they start to carry out the attack.  The Partisans are broken into groups each with their own assignments.  Rodion takes a small group that manages to swim to the docks where the gasoline is stored.  After knocking out the guard and having one of their group wear his uniform, the group pours several large barrels of gasoline into the river.  Rodion then throws a grenade into the ammunition dump and his men light the gasoline on fire. 

This is the signal for the others to attack.  Some of them have gotten the new weapons as Karp, Marina. Damian and Grisha make it back to the village area.  One group attacks the hospital and saves the children.  Dr. Kurin takes a pistol and walks to the hospital where he proceeds to kill the two main German doctors.  The Partisans take the village.  Marina unites with her mother who has two broken limbs and Damian is reunited with his mother.  But now they all have to leave the village for fear of the certain German reprisals that will follow.  In their carts, the convoy leaves the village. 


Pretty good movie.  The determination of the villagers to fight the Fascist invaders was inspiring.  The villagers swore that they would give their lives in defense of their village.  The able-bodied men became Partisans and the villagers began to burn the village as the German soldiers approached.  Perhaps the tale of the happiness of the young people in the village is a bit over-sentimentalized (with a great deal of singing and dancing included).  They could have used some of that singing time to develop the love story between Damian and Marina a bit more.  There are quite a few big Hollywood stars in this movie.  It seemed odd seeing Walter Brennan as Mr. Karp.  At least he toned down that very peculiar way of talking he had. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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