The Last Chance

Three Allied soldiers lead a group of Jewish refugees from Nazi-occupied northern Italy across the Alps into Switzerland in this uneven but powerful 1945 Swiss film. Production began in 1944 but was interrupted by Swiss authorities who, fearful of German reaction, prohibited the film’s release until after the war. The movie effectively depicts Swiss ambivalence toward refugees–because they were not considered “political” refugees, Jews were not accepted, though some sympathetic lower-level officials passed them anyway–and its raw authenticity won it wide praise at the time. (“Talk about suspense,” said Alfred Hitchcock. “This has it!”) The film is a pastiche of styles: director Leopold Lintberg presents powerful, newsreellike scenes of battle and flight whose bumpiness adds to their effectiveness, while elsewhere he uses the beautiful Alpine locations with gentle irony, filming the fleeing soldiers through a patch of flowers. The actors, speaking mostly in their native languages, are occasionally wooden, but they provide some searing moments. When things look bleakest the fugitives begin singing diverse lyrics to the melody of “Frere Jacques” in their various native tongues, the blended voices revealing a bond deeper than their national identities. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Sunday, September 14, 4:15, 312-443-3737. –Fred Camper

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.