This Land Is Mine (1943): Renoir’s American Political Drama, Starring Charles Laughton, Maureen O’Hara and George Sanders

While in exile in the U.S., acclaimed French filmmaker Jean Renoir (Grand Illusion, Rules of the Game) directed This Land Is Mine, an overtly political drama, starring Charles Laughton, Maureen O’Hara and George Sanders.

Set in the midst of World War II in unspecified region (France?) in German-occupied Europe, the tale centers on Albert Lory (Laughton), an initially cowardly school teacher, who is drawn into advocating resistance through his love of his country and of his fellow teacher Louise Martin (O’Hara).

Albert, an unmarried schoolmaster living with his dominating mother Una O’Connor), is secretly in love with his neighbour and fellow teacher Louise Martin.  Regarded as ineffectual, he loses control and panics during an Allied air raid.

Louise is engaged to George, the head of the raillway yard, who believes that collaboration with the German occupation is the only logical course of action.

Her brother Paul, who works in the yard, is an active resister and, trying to kill the German commandant Major von Keller, instead kills two German soldiers.

After turning a blind eye, von Keller takes 10 hostages, threatenting to kill them if the guilty person is not found. Albert’s mother, jealous of Louise, tells George that it was Paul. George tells von Keller, but in a crisis of conscience, he shoots himself.

Albert, furious at discovering his mother’s treachery, is found with corpse and gun.

The Germans expect Albert to be condemned, but he starts an impassioned plea for resistance, ad the prosecutor requests adjournment.

That night, von Keller offers a deal: If he will keep quiet, new forged evidence will acquit him. Back in court, Albert becomes more eloquent in the cause of liberty and the jurors proclaim him innocent. At his schoolroom, supported ny the proud Louise, he is reading to the boys the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, when German soldiers arrive to take him away.

This agit-prop feature wears its politics on its sleeves, and the last reel is defined by court drama speeches of the worst kind, with the requisite exclamation marks and reaction shots of all the concerned.

Sanders’ suicide is subtler than other scenes: he first removes the flower for his suit, then pulls his gun from the desk drawer, and shoots himself offscreen (gun shot is heard, while the camera zeroes in on the worn flower on the floor).

All three stars elevate the material above its banal nature.

Oscar Context

The movie won the Best Sound Recording Oscar for Stephen Dunn.

Commercial Appeal

Due to its timely nature, the film set records for gross receipts on opening day, May 7, 1943.

Cast
Charles Laughton as Albert Lory
Maureen O’Hara as Louise Martin
George Sanders as George Lambert
Walter Slezak as Major Erich von Keller
Kent Smith as Paul Martin
Una O’Connor as Mrs. Emma Lory
Philip Merivale as Prof. Sorel
Thurston Hall as Mayor Manville
Ivan F. Simpson as Judge
George Coulouris as Prosecutor