StarChoice 5: The 25th Hour

As I sit before this computer and trace my life back to some 40 years, I recall that admirers of English movies in Cochin were able to enjoy movies of French director Henri Verneuil such as “Guns for San Sebastian”, “The Sicilian Clan”, “The Burglars”, onscreen at the Sridar Talkies. But amongst the many movies that didn’t make it to the theaters here at that time was the war drama “The 25th Hour” (La Hora 25), starring Anthony Quinn, Virna Lisi, Serge Reggiani, etc – a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Carlo Ponti Production, shot in France and Yugoslavia. This movie, being unavailable with many regular sources, was on my lookout in various countries until I finally found it on a display rack in a shop near the famous flea market of Madrid: El Rastro.

It features the tragic real-life story of simpleminded Romanian farmer Johann Moritz who is arrested and dragged off to forced labour to work on a canal after being falsely tagged as a Jew by a local police captain so as to get rid of Moritz from his wife Suzanna (the magnetic beauty Virna Lisi) whom the policeman secretly coveted. Anthony Quinn, who had returned from Spain where he had filmed the war movie “Lost Command” in 1966, delivers a worthy performance as the victimized protagonist Moritz. Quinn would once again team with director Verneuil for “Guns for San Sebastian” in the following year.

The 25th Hour”, a moving saga of brutal behavior of aggressive and demeaning forces and human endurance, opens on March 15, 1939 in Fantana, a small village in Romania, where Moritz and Suzanna were celebrating the baptism of their second child. From there, the story advances to Moritz’s arrest and his senseless plight through a multitude of ordeals that run parallel to the then political and military situation under German, Soviet and American occupation of Central Europe during World War II, and culminates in the poignant tableau of Moritz’s final re-union with his wife and sons after eight years of separation. The tears welling in the eyes of Moritz as he posed with his family before the journalist’s camera in the final scene endorse the dictum that the delay of our dreams does not mean that they have been denied – that the dry seasons in life do not last. The spring rains will come again.

The selection of Mortiz as an ideal specimen of the heroic Aryan race for German propaganda and his trial before the Allied forces in Nuremberg for assisting Nazis, are ironic factors projected in this film, which reveals the devastating effects and the absurdity of war and helplessness of displaced people trapped in its walls of barbed wire. It’s a pity that a worthy theme like “The 25th Hour” was not shown here in Cochin.

This movie is now available at amazon.com, and I like to think that, to avoid versions inflicted with sterner diktats, an uncensored edition would do justice to the movie. The music is provided by Georges Delerue and Maurice Jarre (uncredited) in Westrex Recording System and the script is faithfully based on the novel La vingt-cinquième heure by Romanian diplomat/writer Constantin Virgil Gheorghiu (translated by Monique Saint-Côme). The film has no relation to Spike Lee’s movie of the same name. (© JS/Manningtree Archive.)

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