So Ends Our Night (1941): John Cromwell’s Political Romantic Melodrama, Starring Fredric March, Margaret Sullavan and Glenn Ford

John Cromwell directed So Ends Our Night, a romantic drama set in WWII, starring Fredric March, Margaret Sullavan (in one of her last screen roles), and the young Glenn Ford.

So Ends Our Night
So Ends Our Night.jpg

The screenplay was adapted by Talbot Jennings from the novel Flotsam by German exile Erich Maria Remarque. The author rose to international fame after his first novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, which was made in 1930 into a Best Picture Oscar winner.

In 1937 Austria, Josef Steiner, a middle-aged German vet who escaped from a concentration camp two years ago, and Ludwig Kern, a 19-year-old German from a prosperous family with Jewish blood, are picked up by the police.

Lacking passports, they face deportation. Brenner, a German agent whom Steiner knows, offers him a passport in exchange for the names of the friends who helped him escape the camp, but Steiner demurs.

Steiner and Kern share a jail cell with other prisoners, including the Chicken, the Pole and a professional gambler-pickpocket who is proud of his “full rights of citizenship.” Steiner studies the gambler’s card tricks and befriends the miserable Kern.

Deported together, they part at the border, Kern to search for his parents in Prague, Steiner to live by his wits in Austria.

The characters struggle to find normalcy. Steiner pines for the wife whom he had left behind and whom his politics have endangered.

In Prague, Ludwig meets lovely Jewish exile Ruth Holland, but she is hesitant to enter into a new relationship. In a flashback, her German fiancé insults and abandons her when her Jewish identity threatens his career. Ludwig follows Ruth to Vienna and visits Steiner, now working as a carnival barker, who helps Ludwig secure a job with the carnival. Ruth is unable to continue her studies because she has no passport and seeks out Ludwig, who is thrilled to see her again. Ludwig is beaten by a suspicious carnival customer and then again by the police. He is incarcerated with the same prisoners as in the previous jail stay, and they teach him how to fight.

Lilo, a beautiful carnie with a crush on Steiner, tells Ludwig that Ruth has been deported to Zürich, so Ludwig heads there upon his release and finds Ruth staying in the home of a wealthy school friend. Ruth begs to accompany him to Paris, the location of his next plan for survival.

Steiner watches in horror as the Nazis annex Austria during the Anschluss. No longer safe in Vienna, he is chased by dogs at the border before plunging into a river to escape. Ruth and Ludwig traverse the Alps to reach the French border.

A Swiss Nazi spy has Ludwig arrested, and a local gendarme allows him to escape. A friendly doctor visits ailing Ruth in their hideout and orders her to the hospital. Ludwig is once again thrown into jail when he stands outside her hospital window, but he is freed, Ruth recovers, and they continue to France.

In Paris, they encounter Ruth’s former professor, an exile who informs them that Paris is flooded with Austrian refugees.

Ludwig learns that university professor Durant loves Ruth and would marry her, which would solve her passport problem. Ludwig tries to convince Ruth to marry Durant, but she refuses because she loves Ludwig.

The exiles take jobs at a construction site. Steiner learns that his wife is in the hospital with only a few days to live. He uses his fake Austrian passport to see her one last time.

As soon as Steiner heads to Germany, Ludwig is caught and sent to prison on the border. He writes Ruth to marry Durant, but Ruth again refuses and concocts an idea to save Ludwig. Threatening to marry Durant, scandal will befall his family unless his influential uncle helps arrange for Ludwig’s release.

After crossing the border, Steiner is detained by the Gestapo. He promises to divulge names if permitted to see his wife. After visiting her, he leaps to his death rather than informing on his friends.

Steiner has left the young couple all of his money, which will enable them to have passports.

In the last scene, they mourn Steiner’s sacrifice on the train that is taking them to freedom.

Ford’s performance earned high marks and led to subsequent film offers and great popularity. Ford embarked on a publicity tour to promote the film.

The film premiered at Radio City Music Hall on February 27, 1941 and began screening at Hollywood’s Graumann’s Chinese Theater on March 19. President Franklin D. Roosevelt attended a special screening at the White House on January 30, after which he invited the cast to his birthday ball that night.

Cast
Fredric March as Josef Steiner
Margaret Sullavan as Ruth Holland
Frances Dee as Marie Steiner
Glenn Ford as Ludwig Kern
Anna Sten as Lilo
Erich von Stroheim as Brenner
Allan Brett as Leo Marrill
Joseph Cawthorn as Leopold Potzloch
Leonid Kinskey as The Chicken
Alexander Granach as The Pole
Roman Bohnen as Mr. Kern
Sig Ruman as Ammers
William Stack as Professor Meyer
Lionel Royce as Barnekrogg
Ernst Deutsch as Dr. Behr
Emory Parnell as Weiss
Gerta Rozan as Elvira
Wolfgang Zilzer as Vogt
Janet Waldo as Jacqueline
Georgia Backus as Mrs. Kern
Hans Schumm as Kobel
Philip Van Zandt as Bachmann
Edward Fielding as Durant
Frederik Vogeding as Gestapo Colonel
Kate MacKenna as Mrs. Ammers
Edit Angold as Mrs. Ammers’ Sister
Adolph Milar as Black Pig Proprietor
Gisela Werbisek as The Harpy
Lisa Golm as The Pale Woman
Spencer Charters as Swiss Policeman
Hermine Sterler as Berlin Nurse
Paul Leyssac as Swiss Judge
Wilhelm von Brincken as German Official
Brenda Fowler as Woman in Prague

Credits:

Directed by John Cromwell
Written by Talbot Jennings, based on the novel “Flotsam” by Erich Maria Remarque
Produced by David L. Loew, Albert Lewin
Cinematography William H. Daniels
Edited by William Reynolds
Music by Louis Gruenberg

Production company: David L. Loew-Albert Lewin Productions

Distributed by United Artists

Release date: February 27, 1941

Running time: 117 minutes