'The Moon Is Down' (1943) Review: Compelling Tale of Civilian Wartime Sacrifice

Though not as well known today as those involving battle, during World War II, Hollywood produced a number of memorable wartime dramas that examined the noble sacrifices expected from and being made by those not in uniform. “Mrs. Miniver” is probably the most widely-known, but there is also Jean Renoir’s 1943 masterpiece, “This Land Is Mine,” Errol Flynn’s near-masterpiece, “Edge of Darkness” (1943), Don Ameche’s “Happy Land (1943), and Jimmy Stewart’s “Mortal Storm” (1940).


The beauty of these films is that thanks to moving themes involving self-sacrifice in pursuit of liberty, they have not aged a day.  The Moon Is Down” (1943) — which is available through 20th Century-Fox for the first time — is another one well worth checking out.

Based on a John Steinbeck novel, studio director Irving Pichel tells the story of a quaint, peaceful, close-knit Norwegian town that suddenly finds itself occupied by a Nazi force commanded by the oh-so civilized but brutal Col. Lanser (played by chameleon Cedric Hardwicke). Henry Travers plays the gentle mayor who, like his people, is constantly put in the terrible position of choosing between cooperating with his occupiers or dying — or worse, being the cause of another’s death.

If you boil away the metaphor, the choice for these people is either relative harmony by cooperating with evil, or torture and death by making a choice to do the right thing and fight tyranny.

The film’s highlights are in the philosophical debates that occur between Travers’ Mayor and Hardwicke’s Nazi Colonel.

Hollywood used to be great.