For movie-makers, Hollywood and others, WWII is a perennial subject with holocaust-focused ones increasingly common in recent years. The earlier movie of which “Walking with the Enemy” (directed by Mark Schmidt, 2013) most reminds me is the Danish resistance drama “Flame and Citron” (2008). Each movie has a pair of very daring young men combating the Nazis. As in the Quentin Tarantino fantasy “Inglorious Basterds,” (2009) those donning Nazi uniforms (here, SS ones) are Jewish. “Walking with the Enemy,” however, is not based on fantasy but on a pair of Hungarian Jews, Pinchas Tibor Rosenbaum (renamed Elek Cohen, and played by Jonas Armstrong, who had been the BBC’s Robin Hood a few years earlier), the son of a rabbi who refuses to credit the danger Jews are I, and Ferenc Jacobson (Mark Wells). In SS uniforms, the two rescued thousands of Jews en route to extermination.
Along with their story, the movie shows Admiral Horthy (Ben Kingsley) maneuvering between Hitler and Stalin, trying to keep Hungary from being a battleground. allied with Hitler, Horthy refused to turn over Hungarian Jews to the Nazi killing machine, but was toppled from power when a ceasefire agreement with Stalin was intercepted by the Nazis and the local fascists, the Arrow Cross, are more than eager to round up and deport Jews, or to kill them themselves. (Having recently been in Budapest, I know that most Hungarians prefer to ignore Hungarians’ central role in rounding up Jews and to blame the Nazis for what regerttably happened.)
The SS-masquerading Jews deliver Jews to a Raoul Wallenberg figure (renamed Carl Lutz and played by William Hope), the Swedish diplomat who was later carried off by the Soviets never to be heard of again. I don’t know why the brave and savvy diplomat is made Swiss instead of Swedish, the whole Swiss government being notable for an unwillingness to try to save Jews from the Nazis.
There’s an extended battle scene in which one expects Elek in his SS uniform to be captured by the advancing Red Army, as he races to escort the children of a Catholic orphanage in which many Jewish children have been placed away from the shooting. Earlier recklessness and earlier compassion come together disastrously for him.
Plus there is a conventional love story with Hannah (Hannah Tointon), who is at one point swept up and saved by the SS uniform-wearing Elek. And the movie ends with a lachrymose toast at a wedding in the US in 1957.
Although there are stock shots of Budapest landmarks, the movie was shot (in English) in Romania. And an overly dramatic, unoriginal musical score by Tim Williams.
The parts don’t entirely cohere and the flight from machine-gun fire near the end is hard to credit (but very, very familiar from other movies!). The charismatic Armstrong and Wells introduce audiences likely to be unfamiliar with the Hungarian “front” of the holocaust to what happened there in 1944. I’d have wished for some backstory of Wallenberg(/Lutz), who is rather taken for granted by the screenplay beyond being made Swiss for no reason I can imagine.
©2017, Stephen O. Murray