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Voice in the Wind

Posted by martinteller on November 21, 2012

“Maybe you’re right.  Maybe beautiful music does arouse anti-German feelings.  Maybe anything beautiful does, and that’s why you hate it.  Because you don’t know what beauty is, because it’s beyond you, because you can’t destroy it.”

Jan Volny (Francis Lederer) was a celebrated pianist in his home country of Czechoslovakia.  But as an encore in his broadcast concert, he plays a forbidden piece of music — Smetana’s “The Moldau” — and knows the Nazi occupiers will be coming to collect him.  He sends his beloved wife Marya (Sigrid Gurie) away and soon after is hauled off by the Gestapo.  En route to the concentration camp, having lost his senses in a vicious beating, he escapes to the island of Guadalupe.  Here he’s known only as “El Hombre”, a madman.  He works for three sinister brothers (Alexander Granach, J. Carrol Naish, David Cota) who promise passage to America but actually rob and murder their clients.   Unbeknownst to him, across the street from the bar where he gets drunk on pernod and vacantly plays the piano, Marya is dying of pneumonia.  The sounds of the piano give her strength, but will it be enough?

This is a strange, eerie film.  The director, Arthur Ripley, also helmed The Chase, another noir with a dreamlike feel.  This one is far, far more depressing.  It may well be the most sorrowful noir I’ve ever seen.  If you can call it a noir… it plays out more like a silent era melodrama.  There are long stretches without dialogue, or it concentrates just on music (which naturally plays a significant role in the film).  There is a heavy emotional air to it.

It’s also, I’m sorry to say, rather dull.  Don’t expect rat-a-tat action, it moves at a snail’s pace, taking its time wallowing in despair and tragic irony.  Even at only 84 minutes, it can be something of a chore to get through.  The concert scene seems to go on forever.  The performances are also not particularly good.  Lederer is okay as the dazed “El Hombre” but in the flashback scenes he’s not very interesting.  And the accents of Granach, Naish and Cota are ridiculous.  They’re supposed to be Portuguese but come off like hack Italian stereotypes.  Naish is practically doing Chico Marx.

The film is noteworthy for its oppressive, almost impressionistic mood.  But it’s such a bummer and so uneventful that I find it difficult to recommend.  Certainly not as noir, but perhaps for fans of high tragedy.  Rating: Fair (62)


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