Cast & Crew
William Cameron Menzies
Peter Van Eyck
In the early 1930s, Martin Schulz, who owns a San Francisco art gallery with fellow German Max Eisenstein, leaves San Francisco with his wife Elsa and their sons for a buying trip in Germany. Remaining behind to run the business is Max and Martin's son Heinrich, who is engaged to Max's daughter Griselle. Griselle, an aspiring young actress, decides to postpone the marriage for one year while she pursues a stage career in Europe. In Germany, meanwhile, Martin meets Baron von Friesche, a cultivated nobleman and advocate of the recently spawned Nazi doctrine. Swayed by the baron's charms, Martin begins to embrace his assertion that Hitler is Germany's destiny. Back in San Francisco, Max and Heinrich become concerned when Martin begins penning letters in praise of Hitler. One night, Griselle, who had gone to Vienna to study acting, visits Martin to tell him that she has won a role in a play to be performed in Berlin. When the baron learns that Griselle's last name is Eisenstein and that her father is Martin's partner, he warns Martin that he must choose between his loyalty to Germany and his friendship with the Jews. Accepting the baron's ultimatum, Martin writes his partner that they must cease all communication because of Max's "race." Certain that Martin's sentiments are motivated by fear of the German censors, Max asks a friend who is traveling to Germany to deliver a message to Martin. When Martin reads the missive, which asks him to signify his affirmation of democratic values with the word "yes," Martin responds "no." One day, during the rehearsal of Griselle's play, a representative from the office of censorship appears at the theater and demands the deletion of several lines extolling the virtues of the meek. Defiant, Griselle speaks the lines during her performance, and when the audience learns that she is a Jew, they hurl racial epithets at her and storm the stage. Narrowly escaping the angry mob, Griselle plods through the countryside to seek refuge with Martin. Learning of his daughter's danger, Max sends Martin a plea to help Griselle. As the police close in on her, Griselle reaches Martin's door and knocks. In response, Martin slams the door in her face, leaving her at the mercy of her pursuers, who shoot and kill her. Furious at her husband for allowing Griselle's death, Elsa decides to leave the country for Switzerland. When Martin sends Max a callous note informing him of Griselle's fate, Max cables back a cryptic message. Soon after, a messenger delivers a letter from Max to Martin, written in code. Martin notices that the censors have deleted part of the document and becomes worried. Martin's concern turns to panic when more coded letters arrive. After writing Heinrich a plea to stop Max's letters, Martin is visited by the baron, who informs him that it is illegal to send or receive coded documents. Desperate to stop the incriminating letters, Martin asks Elsa, who is leaving for Switzerland, to mail a final appeal to Max. Soon after Elsa' s departure, the baron visits Martin and informs him that Elsa was stopped at the border and destroyed a letter written in Martin's hand. Although Martin protests his innocence, the baron refuses to believe him and abandons him. That night, Martin is tormented by imaginary voices calling Griselle's name. As he runs downstairs into his study, he hears the footsteps of soldiers coming to arrest him. Back in San Francisco, the mailman returns Max's letter to Martin, stamped "address unknown." When Max insists that he ceased all correspondence with Martin long ago, Heinrich steps from the shadows, and Max realizes that the incriminating letters were penned by Martin's own son.
William Cameron Menzies
Peter Van Eyck
K. T. Stevens
Larry Joe Olsen
Major Fred Farrell
Lucy Von Boden
Robert Lawrence Powell
Robert L. Stevenson
Harry Hayes Morgan
William Cameron Menzies
M. W. Stoloff
Best Art Direction
Best Music, Original or Comedy Series
In 1938 writer Kathrine Taylor wrote the novella Address Unknown, a biting indictment of the rise of Fascism in Germany. It was written as a series of letters sent between two partners in an art dealership, one a gentile who works in Munich, the other a Jew who stays in the main office in San Francisco. Under the masculine pen-name "Kressmann Taylor" the novella was serialized in Story magazine from September to October of 1938. Address Unknown was a sensation and was soon reprinted in Reader's Digest and became a best-seller when published by Simon & Schuster in 1939. The book was translated across Europe, though the German translation was published in Moscow and, of course, banned by the Nazis.
The motion picture rights to the popular story went through several hands before landing with Columbia Pictures and an independent production company owned by veteran director Sam Wood. Wood's close associate William Cameron Menzies was eventually tapped to produce and direct the property. Menzies had worked with Wood all through the early 1940s, serving as Production Designer on the Wood films Our Town, (1940), The Devil and Miss Jones (1941), Kings Row, The Pride of the Yankees (both 1942), and For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943).
Screenwriter Herbert Dalmas skillfully expanded Taylor's story by changing the leading female character, fashioning a romantic angle, and adding a twist to the ending. The film opens in San Francisco in the mid-1930s, as friends and business partners Max Eisenstein (Morris Carnovsky) and Martin Schulz (Paul Lukas) discuss their Art Gallery, and Schulz's impending move to Munich, Germany to deal in European artwork to send back to Max in the United States. Schulz will be moving with his wife Elsa (Mady Christians) and their four young sons. Their eldest son, Heinrich (Peter van Eyck), is set to stay in San Francisco, work with Max, and marry Max's daughter Griselle (K.T. Stevens, the daughter of Sam Wood). Griselle, however, announces that she wants to become an actress and with Heinrich's blessing, spend a year in Germany with "Uncle" Martin and look for stage work. In Germany, Griselle takes the stage name of "Stone" which temporarily disguises her Jewish heritage. Meanwhile, Martin Schulz falls under the spell of Nazi propaganda and is particularly swayed by the charming Baron von Friesche (Carl Esmond), a nobleman who extols the rise of Hitler as Germany's "destiny." The Baron knows that Griselle and Martin's partner are Jews, and tells Schulz, "You're going to have to choose, Herr Schulz. You can't sit on two stools at once. At least not in Germany." Schulz tells Max to stop writing him letters, because they are being opened and read by the Nazi censors. The letters continue, however, and come to pose a great danger to Schulz.
At the time that Taylor's story first appeared, the United States was still years from entering WWII, and the novella was a warning of the fascism at work in Nazi Germany. By the time the film was made in 1944, the tide of the fighting was turning, giving the Allies the upper hand, and any number of American movies had been released depicting the evils of Nazism. Menzies' Address Unknown did not fall into the usual patterns of pro-American propaganda films of the time, though. Surprisingly, the Americans in the film are unambiguously appalling; they include an obnoxiously wealthy dowager eager to waste her money on an ugly painting purely for her status amongst her rich friends; an oafish mail carrier with a loud voice and dull sense of humor who contrasts with the quiet mail carrier we see in Germany; and a neighbor of Max's (played by the always-reliable character actor Frank Faylen) sent to hand-deliver a letter to Schulz--he is impatient and loutish, yelling "Kraut!" to Schulz after getting the cold shoulder.
Address Unknown was nominated for Academy Awards® for Best Art Direction and Best Score. The art directors (Lionel Banks and Walter Holscher) were no doubt heavily influenced by director Menzies, who made his reputation in the field. Thanks to this team and to cinematographer Rudolph Mate, the film is full of striking shots. A bravura sequence involves the ultimate fate of Jewish actress Griselle Stone. She lands a part in Berlin in which she is to recite the Biblical lines "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth. Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God." During a rehearsal for the play, a bespectacled Nazi censor warns her and the play's director to cut those lines from the performance. Excellent matte paintings depict the cavernous theatre, and as the Nazi walks to the back he is strikingly framed in a tiny, lighted doorway--a small man with great power. At the performance, Griselle defies the order and recites the lines. The censor exposes her as a Jew and incites the crowd to rush the stage. A heavy fire curtain falls down between the stage and the actress, but in a shot from Griselle's point-of-view (and one worthy of the best of 1940s horror movies), the angry mob slashes through the thick fabric with knives and fists, coming straight for the camera. The eerie and horrific imagery continues as Griselle is first seen trying to escape through wet, empty streets dressed conspicuously in white, and later in a desolate countryside, tromping to the safety of "Uncle" Martin's house, followed by storm troopers seen only as boots sloshing through the mud. The images are truly frightening, and speak volumes about Martin Schulz's mindset and his complete betrayal of his friends.
New York Times critic Thomas M. Pryor raved about Address Unknown, calling it "not just another anti-Nazi picture. It is an absorbing study of a man being driven crazy through fear, and the central character is played with dynamic forcefulness by Paul Lukas. The tragic atmosphere of the picture has been heightened through the brilliant use of low-key lighting effects by William Cameron Menzies, the director, who is better known as Hollywood's leading production designer. Mr. Menzies, cloaking the greater part of the story in deep, brooding, shadowy photography, methodically builds the tension into one of the most spine-chilling climaxes you'll encounter in many weeks of moviegoing."
Producers: William Cameron Menzies, Sam Wood
Director: William Cameron Menzies
Screenplay: Herbert Dalmas; Kressmann Taylor (screenplay and story)
Cinematography: Rudolph Mate
Art Direction: Lionel Banks, Walter Holscher
Music: Ernst Toch; Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (uncredited)
Film Editing: Al Clark
Cast: Paul Lukas (Martin Schulz), Carl Esmond (Baron von Friesche), Peter van Eyck (Heinrich Schulz), Mady Christians (Elsa Schultz), Morris Carnovsky (Max Eisenstein), K.T. Stevens (Griselle Eisenstein/Stone), Emory Parnell (The Postman), Mary Young (Mrs. Delaney), Frank Faylen (Jimmie Blake), Charles Halton (Pipsqueak), Erwin Kalser (Director), Frank Reicher (Prof. Schmidt), Dale Cornell (Carl)
by John M. Miller
Kressmann Taylor's novel originally appeared in Story Magazine in September-October 1938. Although onscreen credits read "introducing K. T. Stevens," Stevens, who was the daughter of director Sam Wood, had previously appeared in films as Katherine Stevens and made her motion picture debut as a young child in her father's 1921 film Peck's Bad Boy (see below), billed under the name Baby Gloria Wood. Address Unknown marked the first time that she was billed as "K. T. Stevens." The film also marked the first onscreen credit for child actor Gary Gray (1936-2006), who had appeared in films since 1941.
According to an October 1943 pre-production Hollywood Reporter news item, this film was to be the first joint venture of Wood's independent production unit and Columbia. The Daily Variety review notes that although the project was originally slated as a Woods production, William Cameron Menzies, the film's director and Wood's associate, took over the producing chores. A February 1, 1944 Hollywood Reporter news item added that Menzies rewrote sequences to expand the role of Carl Esmond, who was borrowed from Paramount to appear in the film. According to Columbia publicity materials contained in the production files for this film at the AMPAS Library, the beer hall seen in the picture was an exact replica of the beer hall frequented by Adolf Hitler. This film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Art Direction and Best Score.