Archive for Anna Sten

I Came to Blow Up “They Came to Blow Up America”

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , on May 2, 2020 by dcairns


THEY CAME TO BLOW UP AMERICA (Edward Ludwig, 1943) has a good title (did they succeed? and how could anyone tell?) but I wasn’t enamoured of it, so as an experiment I decided to let it fade in memory before I attempted to write about it.

George Sanders is an all-American German-American (with an English accent picked up somewhere), but does he hide a dark secret? He seems to be a Nazi agent involved in Bund activity (the Germany-American Bund is portrayed as a hotbed of treason and terrorism, which is nice to see. Lots of members carried on in politics after the war without a stain on their characters and served in HUAC etc, which is less nice.

I think the Bund was pretty fascist-friendly but probably not as overtly overthrow-plotting as depicted here. It’s wartime so things are extreme.


The film is “based” on a real case of terrorism though — but the filmmakers didn’t have access to any of the facts, so they just made some up.

George, it soon transpires, is really working for the FBI (who had no involvement in this case). He’s sent back to the Fatherland undercover. There, he jeopardises his cover by trying to save an innocent girl, then the guy he’s impersonating — oh yeah, the guy who got shot, back in America — turns out to have a wife, who is Anna Sten.


George manages to convince top Nazi Inspector Lestrade — who has a Churchill dartboard, like a professionally-made Churchill dartboard, not just a dartboard with Churchill’s face pinned to it — that Sten is insane because she doesn’t recognise him, so she gets put away in the nuthouse, a business played for laughs, because she’s a Nazi too.

Later, realising he’s been tricked, Nazi Lestrade has Sten shot (with a Sten gun?) to save face. To be fair, his face is massive. Can the Fatherland afford to lose a face of such size?


George comes back to America on a U-boat, bribes a coast guard, and then I guess there must be some business about a plot to blow up America, with ticking time bombs, the clock hand ticking inexorably towards annihilation, but I have no memory of it. The whole business the title is predicated upon seems to have made no impression on me.

George is reunited with his lovely parents (those nice Gehrigs) but the family friend Concentration Camp Ehrhardt turns out to be a Nazi. The name should have been a clue.

That’s all I remember: the film is decently made but undistinguished, except the dissolves caught my attention when frame-grabbing.

THEY CAME TO BLOW UP AMERICA stars Addison DeWitt; Grouschenka; Inspector Lestrade; Concentration Camp Ehrhardt; Pop Gehrig; Mom Gehrig; Chingachgook; Geli Raubal; Dick Tracy; Sebastian Sholes; Colonel Haki; David Kentley; Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels; Sgt. Schultz; and Dr. Kluck.

The Sunday Intertitle: A Right Nana

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , on June 2, 2019 by dcairns

Renoir’s wife irl, Catherine Hessling is introduced as the title character of NANA (1926). Titles are by “Mme Le Blond Zola,” apparently.

This is the most impressive NANA I’ve seen, more engaging than the Dorothy Arzner/Anna Sten, that’s for damn sure. (Hollywood and Goldwyn robbed Anna of the considerable appeal she exuded in, say, THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, so totally that it’s quite hard to persuade classic Hollywood fans to even try her earlier work. Makes you appreciate the stubbornness with which Ingrid Bergman resisted being made over.)

CH indulges in some full-on booty shaking in her first scene, giving a huge laugh to the minor character who declares, moments later, “That woman is the epitome of elegance!”

This little vignette shows Renoir’s skill, I think: the still, silent humiliation of the neglected wife, contrasted with the fatuous enthusiasm of her male companion as they watch the show from a box. The wife will take the opera glasses from her idiot hubby, not to look herself, just to limit his oafish leering, and then she has to physically prevent him from throwing the flowers which he belatedly remembers are his gift to her.

What’s most typical of Renoir here is, I think, the co-existence of tragedy and comedy in the same frame, equally weighted, each given their due, resulting in a weird harmony that’s lifelike and not in the least jarring.

The Sunday Intertitle: An Imperfect Storm

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on May 2, 2010 by dcairns

It’s at present impossible to get ahold of STURME DER LEIDESCHAFT, which is a pity because I’m writing an article about Robert Siodmak and it’s maybe his most important German film, or anyway the one which shines the brightest light on his later American thrillers. What I *can* get is TUMULTES, the French-language version made simultaneously with SDL, in which Charles Boyer substitutes for Emil Jannings and Florelle subs for Anna Sten (she of the famous gun).

AND I can also get a soundie version of SDL, released in Italy as TEMPESTE DI PASSIONE. This version deletes chunks of plot, jettisons the whole soundtrack, apart from the singing, turning a talkie into a quasi-silent. I guess this was the most cost-effective way to make a foreign version in 1932.

It’s quite odd seeing Jannings with Italian intertitles — somehow his natural ebullience as an actor goes quite well with the language, so that even though the film is clearly set in Berlin, a Roman flavour escapes into it. Meanwhile, the picture quality is pretty bad, but worth putting up with for such dramatic and atmospheric values of the proto-noir that seep through, and for the eeriness of the soundie medium, from which human speech has been subtracted, except for moments of song.

However, a glance at TUMULTES reveals the true quality of the cinematography and Friedrich Hollander’s music, and makes me want to write one of those “why oh why” pieces about the lack of DVD releases for classic movies like this. Of course, we know the “why” — it has to do with money and capitalism, phenomena which have made cinema as we know it possible, but have also tended to limit it in countless ways…