Plot: Sara's been in away in Europe for eighteen years, presumably because her mother is really annoying. While away, she meets a troublemaker named Kurt and has three children who prove that "annoying" is something that runs in the family. They arrive in Washington for a visit, and a Romanian house guest, a guy who's staying with Sara's mother only because he knows there wouldn't be much of a movie without him, learns some of the family's secrets. He attempts to extract money. Oh, Bodo!
It's always interesting to me to see movies like this out of their context. It's a movie about Nazis and WWII, but it really only touches on the historical stuff lightly, and its themes of dedication, sacrifice, and tough decision making are still relevant today. Unfortunately, this is bogged down by what feel like 1940's movie cliches. You get that oh-no-she-didn't stock mother character used for comic effect. Her loud utterances probably had 1943 audiences' sides splitting. You get dialogue that feels painstakingly written, stagy. You get a romantic subplot tossed in, probably to add a bit of light to an otherwise dark ending. But really, the characters of David and Anise just aren't necessary in this thing. A rousing patriotic score that's just a little too much. And Watch on the Rhine has my biggest pet peeve of all--bad child acting! Now if it was just Joshua, the firstborn who speaks in this terrible accent, I could probably tolerate it. And the middle child, a daughter, is just a girl and doesn't get too many lines anyway. But the third child is intolerable. And his name is Bodo! Bodo! How director Herman Shumlin didn't recognize that Bodo, played by Julia Roberts' brother actually, just wasn't working is beyond me. Seems like a good director would have had Bodo fall off the train early in the movie.
Sara: Honey, have you seen Bodo?
Kurt: Yeah, Bodo fell off the train about a half hour ago.
Sara: What? And you didn't tell me about it? Aren't you concerned?
Kurt: C'mon, Sara. You've met Bodo.
Sara: You've got a good point there, Kurt.
Joshua: Mother? Father? We shall be ever so happy now that Bodo is no longer with us.
Kurt: Shut your pie hold, Joshua, or you're going to be the next to "fall" off this train.
Since Herman Shumlin wasn't able to recognize that Bodo didn't work, he was only allowed to direct one other movie, the only Hollywood director ever to be blacklisted because of a Bodo. Now Oscar-winner Paul Lukas is really good. His quiet brilliance emanates and actually makes Bette Davis into a better actress. He's got this quiet strength, this unspoken but palpable fatigue, and eventually a powerful resolution that makes him heroic in an unflashy way. There's no way this guy would have a child like Bodo. Bette Davis, sure, but not Paul Lukas.