Road Back, The (1937): James Whale’s Problematic Film

James Whale’s career went into sharp decline after the release of The Road Back, in  1937.

The sequel to Erich Maria Remarque‘s All Quiet on the Western Front, which Universal had filmed in 1930, the novel and film follow the lives of several young German men who have returned from the trenches of World War I and their struggles to re-integrate into society.

When the Los Angeles Consul for Nazi Germany, George Gyssling, learned that the film was in production, he protested to PCA enforcer Joseph Breen, arguing that the film gave an “untrue and distorted picture of the German people”.[

Gyssling  met with Whale, but nothing came of it.  Gyssling then sent letters to members of the cast, threatening that their participation in the film might lead to difficulties in obtaining German filming permits

The State Department, under pressure from the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League and the Screen Actors Guild, stepped in and the German government backed down.

Whale’s original cut of the film was given positive reviews, but ultimately Rogers capitulated to the Germans, ordering that cuts be made and additional scenes be shot and inserted.  The altered film was banned in Germany anyway. The Germans persuaded China, Greece, Italy and Switzerland to ban the film as well.

Following the debacle of The Road Back, Charles Rogers tried to get out of his contract with Whale. Rogers then assigned him to B movies, but Whale only made one additional successful film, The Man in the Iron Mask (1939), before retiring from the industry in 1941.