It isn’t his debut (his third feature I believe), but the first Fred Zinnemann film I’ve seen and have in the archives
It is largely a Spencer Tracy vehicle, a war film, but has some nice touches from Zinnemann with his DP, Karl Freund, and a supporting performance from Hume Cronyn
It is Cronyn’s only oscar nom—but he’s certainly better in 1947’s Brute Force. Here, he and real wife Jessica Tandy play a married couple just like they do in Cocoon some 41 years later.
A promising opening tacking shot. Zinnemann and Freund (also worked on Metropolis, Dracula) move the camera through the dense fog from right to left looking at the seven crosses. This shot is repeated half-way through the film recapping who is caught (the seven crosses stand for seven prisoners that escape a concentration camp and the Nazi leader vow to catch and hang them all). A nice formal touch
It is a prison escape and man hunt movie— dark and tragic—a hanging man gives us the voice-over from beyond the grave (he never actually speaks in the film and dies in the first few minutes)- but he’s our narrator. That is an interesting idea, but it is the achilles heel of the film. The voice-over is completely overbearing. Tracy doesn’t speak by his voice until about 24 minutes into the film. That alone is fine. But instead of letting the story and actor do it without dialogue—we get a play by play from the voice-over. It tells us the characters motivations. “The doctor knew he should report it—but he knew he never would”. And “he was tired” and Tracy squints. Haha. “There was a new strength in him now” and Tracy gets a pep in his step. It is awful. “You have seen great courage on display tonight”—– just stop.
The main narrative (Tracy’s escape) is intercut nicely with the capture of the other six (they show a few of them actually not skip the others—poor form again).
Zinnemann was from Austria/Hungary. Freund from German—the highlight of the film is that opening shot and the way they shoot the street lights—certainly an expressionism influence on both
It is a strange performance for Tracy—he’s fine- he’s just undercut by the voice-over decision
[…] The Seventh Cross– Zinnemann […]