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An intelligent wartime look at Nazi occupation
on 14 June 2007
Despite being directed by Jean Renoir and set in Vichy France, This Land is Mine never for one second gives the impression that there's anything remotely French about it or its characters, but in a strange way that works in the film's favor as a propaganda picture: this isn't a universally French story but one that could just as easily have happened in the USA had the Nazis won.
Dudley Nichols' script is a surprisingly intelligent look at the nature of collaboration and the self-righteous moral delusion of the Vichy Government that justified a baser mercenary self-interest. Walter Slezak's Nazi isn't an obvious stereotype, more a pragmatic idealist rather than a fanatic - a true believer, but one who doesn't want the situation in the town to escalate because his job is easier if it doesn't. He's the one constantly offering practical solutions to avoid reprisals. Similarly, George Sanders' collaborator's belief that the Nazis and the Vichy French share many of the same political philosophies and so are a morally justifiable partnership doesn't make him immune to torment at the consequences of that union.
That it all ends in a series of speeches from Charles Laughton's timid schoolteacher curiously doesn't detract, especially since the film regards thought and speech as expressions of resistance every bit as valid as acts of sabotage. Renoir even manages to draw a good performance out of Maureen O'Hara, with none of her usual broad cartoon bluster, and even Una O'Connor is almost tolerable for once.