Watch on the Rhine  (1943)





Director:     Herman Shumlin; Hal Mohr (uncredited).

Starring:    Bette Davis (Sara Muller), Paul Lukas (Kurt Muller), Geraldine Fitzgerald (Marthe de Brancovis), Lucile Watson (Fanny Farrelly), Beulah Bondi (Anise), George Coulouris (Teck de Brancovis), Donald Woods (David Farrelly), Henry Daniell (Phili Von Ramme), Eric Roberts (Bodo), Donald Buka (Joshua), Anthony Caruso (Italian Man), Helmut Dantine (Young Man), Clyde Fillmore (Sam Chandler), Erwin Kalser (Dr. Klauber), Kurt Katch (Herr Blecher), Clarence Muse (Horace), Frank L. Wilson (Joseph), Janis Wilson (Babette), Mary Young (Mrs. Mellie Sewell), Rudolph Anders (Oberdorff).

The work of the few and brave people working in the anti-fascist cause.


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

"In the first week of April 1940 there were few men in the world who could have believed that, in less than three months, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Holland and France would fall to the German invaders. But there were some men, ordinary men, not prophets, who knew this mighty tragedy was on the way. They had fought it form the beginning, and they understood it. We are most deeply in their debt. This is the story of one of these men."

From Mexico Kurt and Sarah Muller with their two boys and one girl head to the office of the U.S. Immigration Service. Kurt tells his family to keep quiet and please not be nervous. They successfully get their passports stamped. Sara now steps into her home country of the U.S.A. The last time she was in the United States was nearly 18 years ago. They take a train ride to Washington, D.C.

In a mansion sized house lives an elderly woman named Fanny Farrelly. She says to her servants that she didn't sleep well, because she kept thinking about her daughter Sara coming home. Marthe and her husband of Romanian nobility Teck have been staying with Fanny for awhile. They seem to have run up a great many bills.

Joseph, the black servant, has to ring the bell for breakfast and his employer always makes him ring it loudly. David Farrington, son of Fanny, comes out complaining about the noise of the bell. Next to come down are Marthe and Teck de Brancovis. Teck tells his wife that tonight he will be dining at the German embassy. This upsets Marthe, who doesn't want him hanging around the Nazis.

Everyone is around the breakfast table now. The talk is of Sara coming home. Her husband Kurt is an engineer. He got his family out of Germany in the 1930s and since then has moved around a great deal from country to country in Europe. Teck says he is a refugee from Europe, but won't say which country. After David leaves, Teck tells his wife that they only have $85 dollars in American Express checks. Marthe is afraid that Teck wants to go back to Europe and be once again in the arms of the Nazis. She tells him again that she told him to stay away from Nazis. Teck is planning on going to the German Embassy to play cards with the Nazis. Marthe reiterates that he should not go to the German Embassy. If he loses at cards this time, he won't be able to pay his debts and the Nazis won't like that. She is afraid that they may get booted out of the United States and back to Europe. Teck says he would like going back to Europe and especially so because he thinks Marthe is getting too friendly with David. He warns her that he would not like her going with David at all.

The Mullers hold the baby of a couple on the train. The youngest son of the Mullers is very brash and he asks the father of the baby if he fought with his father in Spain? He says no, but confirms with Mr. Muller that he is German. He wonders which side Muller fought on. He fought for the Republicans, not the fascists. He adds: "I am not a Nazi or a fascist." The young father now relaxes and sits down. He asks Muller what is going on in Europe and then what is his trade? Muller says: "I fight against fascism. That is my trade."

Millie waits for Fanny to go to Washington, D.C. to shop together. She tells Fanny that Marthe is very pretty. Fanny says that all the Randolphs are very good-looking. Milly says all Washington is talking about David and the Countess of Bracovis.

On the return journey from Washington, D.C. Fanny has the driver stop. She has to fetch David, she says. She tells Millie to take the packages to her place and give them to her servant Joseph. Fanny kisses her gloved right hand and she places that hand on a plaque on the building she is going into. The plaque says: "This plaque in memory of Joshua Farrelly, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and distinguished American jurist -- 1860-1919. "

Fanny bursts into David's office and tells him to take her home. Then she bursts into the office of Cyrus, who is thrilled to see her. He says when Joshua snapped her up, his heart was broken. Fanny asks him to see if he can't help her son-in-law Kurt to get a job. On the ride home with David, she wonders how long Marthe and Teck will be staying with them. Marthe was the daughter of her late, good friend. Fanny asks David if the couple has asked him for much money? David says: "None." Fanny mentions that David has become enamored with Marthe. She then complains about all the gossip about David and Marthe going around in Washington. She goes on to say that he better be careful about Teck because beneath that calm exterior she doesn't think he is good-natured at all.

At the German Embassy, the party is over and most of the guests are slowly saying goodnight. Teck, however, is there still talking with Dr. Klauber who runs a pro-Nazi paper in the United States. They hook up with Baron von Ramme. Two other men go with them into the room to play cards. A bald-headed man named Blecher is already sitting at the card table. Blecher tells Klauber that he wants to have a little chat with him. The Baron says that these Blecher talks are usually unpleasant. Blecher, a determined Nazi, does not like that remark. A Mr. Chandler is there to sell oil to the Nazis. The other man is Oberdorff. Blecher says he has tried to find out about Oberdorff, but as of now, he just doesn't know the man. Blecher also says he only knows the basics about Teck: a Romanian, diplomat, aristocrat, gambler, but then the career goes a little wrong.

David is waiting at the train station when Sara and her family arrive. They are so happy to see each other. At home Sara runs into the house. She is disappointed to find no one waiting for her. So she goes around touching things that bring back memories to her. She was born upstairs in the house. Sara says she has so wished for a home of her own with her family. The servant Anise runs in to hug Sara. The young son determines that Anise is from northern France. Bodo says: "We were in hiding there once." Anise finds it hard to believe they were in hiding once, but her thoughts are interrupted when Fanny comes into the room. She goes over to hug Sara. Fanny meets the grandchildren, but they are so formal that she asks Sara if they are children or dressed-up midgets? Sara introduces her children: Babette, Joshua and Bodo, the youngest member of the family.

Fanny has Kurt sit down, saying he looks more than just tired. She mentions that Cyrus Penfield is looking for a job in engineering for Kurt, but Kurt says he has not worked as an engineer since 1933 (when Hitler became chancellor). Fanny bluntly tells Kurt that she wants to do know what he does. He says: "I am an anti-fascist." And that job does not pay well.

The servant Anise makes a beautiful white dress for Sara. She sends for Kurt to come up. Kurt comes in and is shocked at her beauty.

On a festival day in August 1931, Kurt saw 27 men murdered in a Nazi street fight. He knew then that he must do something to fight the Nazis.

Kurt meets Teck. Teck thinks that he has seen Kurt before. Perhaps Paris. When Marthe comes down Teck asks her about what David has told her about the Mullers. She says nothing more than what David has told him already. Teck says that the Mullers were in Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Poland, France and Switzerland and these are all countries that Germany either threatened or went into. The Germans would send into theses countries men to prepare the way. Teck adds: "I had thought that Herr Muller might be such a man."

Teck picks up Kurtís briefcase and it looks as if he is going to open it. This shocks Marthe, so Teck doesnít open it. He tells Marthe that Kurt has bullet scars and broken bones in his hands. Suddenly, Teck asks Marthe if she is in love with David? She says: "I like him." Tecks tells her to please try to find out more about Herr Muller from David. Marthe refuses to do it and she tells her husband to leave this family alone.

The servant Anise makes a beautiful white dress for Sara. She sends for Kurt to come up. Kurt comes in and is shocked at her beauty. They hug and kiss.

Sara and David go out on the pond rowing. Sara tells David that Kurt is not well. The wound received in Spain never really healed like it should have. She also tells him that Teck scares her a little. Marthe is by the pond and walks with David.  He puts his arm around her.

While almost everyone is out of the house, Teck uses the time to snoop around to find out more about the Mullers. He finds the briefcase, picks the lock and opens it. He finds a German Luger pistol and a piece of jewelry with MF engraved on it. Also there is $20,000 dollars in cash in the briefcase. Finished, he tries to re-lock the lock on the briefcase, but the lock just wonít lock. 

Teck goes to his room where he makes a telephone call to the Baron. He asks about a man called Max Freidank and then asks for a description of what he looks like. The Baron tells Teck that he should contact Blecher, the bloody Butcher Boy, for such information. He does mention, however, that Freidank was arrested in Frankfurt a few days ago. He slams the phone down on Teck.

Getting dressed for dinner, Sara discovers that the briefcase is unlocked. She goes downstairs and tells her husband that the briefcase has been opened and examined. The gun was not put back where it was originally. They figure it was Teck.

Mother Fanny says she heard that Teck was playing cards at the German Embassy with Baron von Ramme and her relative that rascal Sam Chandler. Teck tells Kurt that von Ramme was the German military attachť when Kurt was in Spain.

Teck says he left the diplomatic service in 1931. Kurt notes that this was after the Budapest oil deal. Fritz Thyssen bought oil and made the money from this available to Hitler. Teck turns the tables by telling Kurt that he had once thought that Kurt might be Max Freidank. Sara nearly jumps off the sofa. Kurt says that Freidank is a great hero of his people. Teck tells him that Colonel Freidank has been arrested. He was the chief of the anti-Nazi underground movement. Teck has not made himself very popular with the Farrellys and the Mullers. He leaves to go to a dinner party with Marthe.

Kurt goes to make a long-distance call. Mother and David ask Sara whatís this all about, but she says she doesnít know all of it. But she does know that Teck broke open Kurtís briefcase. Kurt has worked for seven years in an illegal organization. They carry with them $23,000 dollars collected in Mexico and the United States.

She says that Max and Kurt love each other. They fought together in Spain. And six months ago Max rescued Kurt from the Gestapo by carrying the hurt Kurt seven miles across the border. She says since Max has been caught, ". . . nobodyís got much of a chance anymore."

Kurt comes back to tell his wife that the report is true. And Hans and Ernst were also arrested with Freidank. So Kurt is going to go back to get the arrested men out. They were taken to Sonnenberg and at that place, there are guards who can be bribed. Sara starts crying and at this time the three children enter and ask why their mother is crying?  She says she will tell them later.

Teck and Marthe are heading to Washington, D.C. for the dinner party. He warns Marthe that she better not have alternate plans to their going back to Europe together. He goes to the German embassy and Marthe goes to the dinner party.

Teck speaks with Blecher about how much money they would give him if he could turn over more men that were working with Freidank. Blecher says it they are in the United States, they are worth nothing to Germany. But if they are in one of the countries in Europe where the Germans have influence, Teck could name his price, within reason.

After dinner the children say they know something has gone wrong, because their mother and father have the same expressions as they always do when something has gone wrong. Kurt sends the two younger children upstairs. He then signals to Joshua that he wants to talk to him out on the patio.

Joshua says he wants to go with his father. Kurt explains that their forces are small, so they canít expose any more men than absolutely necessary. That means that Kurt will go alone and not expose his son to danger. He tells Joshua that when Bodo gets older, he wants Joshua to train him as Kurt has trained Joshua.

Kurt comes back into the living room where Sara is describing the threat that the fascists present to the world. She says: "Theyíre smart and theyíre sick and theyíre cruel." Kurt says he is waiting to see if Teck will find out his true identity. And it is the waiting that always tears him up mentally.

Teck and Marthe return. Marthe says that she has nothing to do with anything that Teck is doing and she now has nothing to do with Teck himself. Marthe leaves the room. Teck tells Kurt that he wants $10,000 dollars to go back to Europe. David gets angry at Teck for trying to blackmail Kurt, but Kurt says that Teck is negotiating with him alone.

Teck got a list of the wanted underground people. He thinks that Kurt is this man they call Gotter, the name at least is the one the man uses the most. The expression on Sara tells us that Teck is correct. Teck reads the extensive description and report on this man Gotter.

Kurt tells Teck that he will not give him any money. The money, Kurt says, was not collected in order for Kurt to use it to save his own life. He is going to carry out his mission. Teck says that Kurt will never get back. He will be arrested or killed.

Fanny is tired of this discussion and she offers to pay the $10,000 dollars to Teck. Teck says he will take $1,500 in cash and in one month they are to send him a check for the remainder, $8,500 dollars. Fanny goes to get the cash from her safe.

Sara says that people like her mother and brother donít know just how many fascists there are in the world. They donít perceive the danger.

Kurt says he thinks Teck will take the money from them and get the visa from the German embassy. He walks over to Teck and tells him that he is not a gambler. He doesnít take chances. He slugs Teck and knocks him out of his chair and then takes out the German Luger. He takes Teck outside, saying to the others that no one is to come outside. Sara straightens out the room, then makes a call to the airport for a flight to El Paso or Brownsville.

Fanny and David return to the living room with the money. She explains that Kurt and Teck have gone outside, but nobody in the house is to go outside.

Kurt takes Teck into an enclosed area, closes the door and shoots Teck. Inside the house, Sara says: "I think itís all over now." She adds that Kurt will be going back and he probably will never return.

Kurt returns and Sara tells him she has made a reservation for him on a plane to Brownsville. Kurt then tells Fanny and David: "I do what must be done." He says he prayed not to have to kill the man, but he has killed before and he will do it again if necessary.

Kurt asks to take Davidís car. He will put Teck in the car and then abandon it. He wants David to give him two days and, if they havenít found the body by then, they can call the police and tell them as much that is safe for them to say. Kurt now goes to say goodbye to his children.

Sara tells mother and David: "Papa said the only men on Earth worth their time on Earth were the men who would fight for other men. Papa said we have struggled through from darkness. But man moves forward with each day and each hour to a better, freer life. That desire to go forward, that willingness to fight for it, cannot be put in a man. But when it is there . . . " Her speech trails off and she begs for the two days for Kurt. David assures her that he will have his two days.

Kurt tells his children that he is one of those men who fight for a better world for not only his own children, but for all children. He kisses them and says they will be together again.

Kurt says goodbye to his mother-in-law and David. They give him the cash money they were going to give to Teck. He tells them thank you. He now says goodbye to Sara. She tells him: "Come back for me, darling. If you can." He says: "I will try." Kurt leaves.

Joshua comes down to ask his mother to come and console Bodo and Babette. They go upstairs together.

Fanny tells her son:  "Well, we have been shaken out of the magnolias."   She also tell David that he should now go up to see Marthe and tell her what has happened.

Joshua traces out on a course back to Europe. He could fly to Marseille, France and then make his way to Stuttgart, Germany. Sara finds out about this and she tells Joshua that she will not let him go. Joshua says he believes that she will let him go. In fact, she will want him to go. And mother will prepare Bodo for the time that he will go to Europe to find him (Joshua). He tells his mother that she is very brave. Mom says: "Iím not brave. It isnít like that at all. When the time comes, when it comes, I will do my best."



Good movie about a much neglected group of people: the anti-fascists.  These were men and women who devoted their lives to fighting the rise and spread of fascism.  This is an anti-fascist play by Lillian Hellman, which was adapted to the screen by her lover Dashiell Hammett.  Lillian was a radical when the western democracies were trying to ignore the threat of fascism.  Sjhe wanted to have the people "shaken out of the magnolias."  She supported the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War and joined the Anti-Fascist League.  Lillian even joined the communist party for a brief period.  Of course, being a radical gave many a conservative an excuse to dismiss her work as communist or radical propaganda. 

The film won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Picture and Paul Lukas won an Academy Award for Best Actor, the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor Ė Motion Picture Drama and the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


From Wikipedia is a list of individual anti-fascist activists:

Josť Antonio Aguirre

Giovanni Amendola

Mordechaj Anielewicz

Hannah Arendt

Vladimir Bartol

Giorgio Bassani

Eduard Beneö

Walter Benjamin

Marc Bloch

Giuseppe Antonio Borgese

Menno ter Braak

Willy Brandt

Lojze Bratuě

Albert Camus

Emil Carlebach

Renť Char

Charlie Chaplin

Daniel Cohn-Bendit

Lluis Companys

Silvio Corbari

Benedetto Croce

Lauro De Bosis

Charles de Gaulle

Alcide De Gasperi

Buenaventura Durruti

Jakob Ehrlich

Albert Einstein

Carl Einstein

Georg Elser

David Emory

Oriana Fallaci

Guglielmo Ferrero

David Frankfurter

Jozef GabcŪk

Leone Ginzburg

Natalia Ginzburg

Piero Gobetti

Kurt Goldstein

Antonio Gramsci

Miguel HernŠndez

Israel Holmgren

Erich Honecker

Enver Hoxha

Dolores IbŠrruri

Edvard Kardelj

Friedrich Kellner

Ernst Kirchweger

Ivan Goran Kovacic

Jan Kubiö

Fiorello H. La Guardia

Uno Laht

Carlo Levi

Primo Levi

Marinus van der Lubbe

Federico GarcŪa Lorca

Andrť Malraux

Herbert Marcuse

Stanislaw Mikolajczyk

Jean Moulin

Guy Mollet

Mario Monicelli

Ture Nerman

Andreu Nin

George Orwell

Boris Pahor

Sylvia Pankhurst

Sandro Pertini

Pablo Picasso

Christian Pineau

Giaime Pintor

Phil Piratin

Koca Popovic

Carlo Rosselli

Nello Rosselli

Ayn Rand

Gaetano Salvemini

Jean-Paul Sartre

Vidal Sassoon

Hannie Schaft

Kurt Schumacher

Carlo Sforza

Joseph Stalin

Luigi Sturzo

Josip Broz Tito

Palmiro Togliatti

Arturo Toscanini

Leon Trotsky


Walter Vielhauer

Nancy Wake

Simone Weil

Simon Wiesenthal

Tom Wintringham



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