I had no expectations going into watching the 1944 “Uncertain Glory,” directed by Raoul Walsh, starring Errol Flynn and Paul Lukas. I am a Paul Lukas fan, have mixed reactions to Errol Flynn on screen, and to Raoul Walsh films. IMO “White Heat” (1949) guaranteed immortality for Walsh; The Douglas Fairbanks Sr. “Thief of Baghdad,” “They Drive by Night,” “Strawberry Blonde,”High Sierra,” and “Capt. Horatio Hornblower R.N.” solidify the position, though there are many lesser accomplishments.
Flynn wanted to be taken seriously as an actor, and “Uncertain Glory” provided a rare role of complexity, not neglecting his charm and womanizing, but also showing a sometimes coward. The viewer does not learn of the crimes that led Jean Picard to the guillotine at the start, where after having his collar cut away, a British bomber aiming at the next-door Renault factory allows an escape. Given the character of his long-time pursuer, Inspector Marcel Bonet (Lukas, initially seeming to have the monomania of Javert relentless pursuing Jean Valjiean in Les Miserables) it seems impossible to believe that Jean was not guilty of the crimes that led to guillotine.
Bonet rather quickly captures him again in the south (Lyon). Saboteurs have just blown up a bridge that a Nazi troop train was costing, and the Nazis have announced that they will slay a hundred locals if the saboteur is not caught. Among the ironies is that he is caught, but rescue by Bonet’s credentials. Jean convinces Bonet to let him be shot by the Nazis instead of being guillotined, saving the hundred innocent hostages. Though Bonet accepts the offer, he is very unsure that Jean will go through it after enjoying three days of freedom, which include a romance with a local girl (dancer Jean Sullivan) who looked like Jennifer Jones of that era to me. There are other complications, most notably the villagers wanting to pin the sabotage on the stranger (Jean), though the stern local priest (Dennis Hoey) forbids this de factp murder by French people of the stranger.
As in probably all Hollywood movies about Nazi occupation, the sneering Nazis are a step behind the French police, who are a step behind Bonet.
Sid Hickox was DP, and the film has a very Warner Brothers look (not quite noir). There is not much action, but the relationship enacted by Flynn and Lukas is interesting, and the propaganda is muted examination of troubled consciences. Except, perhaps, for the premise shared with the 1944 Bogart vehicle “Passage to Marseilles” (and to some degree also of the 1942 “Casablanca”)of criminals sacrificing themselves for la patrie.
©2018, Stephen O. Murray