The 31st film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was a 1945 film called The Last Chance.
I have to admit that one reason why I’ve been struggling to finish up the relatively simple task of watching all 50 of the films included in this box set is that a lot of the films just aren’t very good. Along with suffering from the typically poor Mill Creek transfer, quite a few of the movies are forgettable filler. You can only watch so many movies like Freckles Comes Home before you start to lose your enthusiasm.
Fortunately, even if most of the films are forgettable, there are still a handful of outstanding productions to be found in the Fabulous Forties. You just have to have a lot of patience and you have to be willing to look for them. For instance, if I had given up on the Fabulous Forties after sitting through Drums of Africa, I would never have discovered The Last Chance.
And that would have been a shame because The Last Chance is an excellent film! It’s certainly the best of the 31 Fabulous Forties films that I’ve watched so far.
Directed by Leopold Lindtberg, an Austrian who fled to Switzerland shortly after the Nazis came to power, The Last Chance tells a deceptively simple story. Two POWs — an American named Braddock (Ray Reagan) and a British soldier name Halliday (John Hoy) — are being transported across Italy via train. When the train crashes, Braddock and Halliday escape. They spend the rest of the film trying to reach Switzerland. Along the way, they struggle to avoid Nazis, deal with civilians who mostly just want the war to be over, and eventually meet and hook up with the Italian resistance. (The resistance here is represented by a self-sacrificing priest, who was well-played by real-life refugee named Romano Calo.) Eventually, the two soldiers meet up with another escaped POW (Ewart G. Morrison) and the three of them lead a group of refugees to the Swiss border.
What distinguishes The Last Chance is its authenticity. Reagan, Hoy, and Morrison were not professional actors. Instead, they were real-life soldiers, all of whom had once been POWs and all of whom managed to escape to Switzerland. What these three actors lacked in polish, they made up for in reality. When they talked about the risks of trying to reach the Swiss border and the ruthless barbarity of the Axis regime, they knew what they were talking about. As well, the film was actually shot in Europe during the war. When we see the three soldiers leading the band of refugees through bombed out villages, we’re not just seeing a bunch of actors on a safe Hollywood sound stage. Instead, we are watching real-life refugees walking through the ruins of their former home. Though the story may be fictionalized, Leopold Lindtberg directed the film as if it were a documentary and the result is both a passionate condemnation of fascism and an emotional anti-war piece that remains powerful to this day.
I don’t care how many bad films that I had to sit through (and have left to sit through) as a result of my decision to review all of the movies inside the Fabulous Forties box set. Discovering a film like The Last Chance makes it all worth it.