Cast & Crew
Herbert J. Biberman
As the fall of the Third Reich appears imminent, German officers are dispersed throughout Europe to sew the seeds of disunity, thus creating a state of instability that will foster the resurgence of the "Master Race." Nazi colonel Frederic Von Beck is assigned to the agricultural town of Kolar, Belgium, where, after shooting himself in the leg, he poses as Ferdinand Varin, a wounded Belgium patriot. When the Allied troops, led by Major Phil Carson and Captain William Forsythe, arrive to restore order to the devastated countryside, Von Beck goes to work. Introducing himself as Varin, the brother of Ernst Varin, a hated Nazi collaborator and the owner of the town mill, Von Beck enlists Josef Katry, the volatile mill manager, in a plan to exact revenge for his brother's treachery. Taking up residence at the Varin house, Von Beck coerces Ernst's wife Martha to continue his deception. As the village men return after five long years of war, Martha's daughter Nina eagerly welcomes her sweetheart, Frank Bartoc. At the Bartoc house, Frank's sister Helena is ashamed of her little daughter, who is a product of a Nazi rape, and prepares to flee, but is prevented by the return of Frank and their father, Old Man Bartoc. In the town square, Major Carson offers the ravaged villagers words of inspiration and encouragement and appoints Katry, a former assistant to the mayor, as his aide. Soon after, Von Beck begins his campaign to instill distrust of Allied intentions by suggesting to Katry that they want to rebuild the mill only for their own profit. Provoked by Von Beck's accusations, Katry reclaims his horse from the farmers who are using the animal to till their fields and recruits several of them to join him in rebuilding the mill, thus creating disunity among the populace. Divisiveness continues to infect the town when Frank reviles Nina for her father's allegiance to the Nazis. Sensing Nina's vulnerability, Von Beck begins his seduction of the girl. When the major learns of Katry's actions, he revokes his appointment and threatens to place the mill off limits. As the townspeople begin to rebuild their church, Nina and the American soldiers offer their help. Helena's daughter, heartened by words of encouragement from the major, wanders into the church and offers her doll as a contribution. Ludwig Altmeier, a German prisoner of war, experiences remorse over the destruction that the Germans have wrought and fashions a crucifix for the church. To foster further unrest, Von Beck visits the major to warn him of an alliance between Mrs. Varin and Katry. While Von Beck is at the major's office, Andrei, a Russian soldier and medic awaiting repatriation, examines the German's wound and later cautions the major that the injury is too fresh to be a war wound. Soon after, Helena's husband John returns home, and when he learns that his wife has been impregnated by a Nazi, he joins forces with Katry, who promises revenge on the captured German soldiers. Captain Forsythe preaches the first sermon in the new church, and when Nina breaks into tears at his words, Frank comforts and forgives her. Later that night, Mrs. Varin warns Von Beck that Altmeier can recognize him. To protect his identity, Von Beck instructs Katry to blow up the prison and thus kill Altmeier. When Katry informs John of the plans and suggests that Helena's daughter should also be eliminated, John rebels and returns home. At the Varin house, Von Beck learns of Nina's reconciliation with Frank and forbids her to see him. In defiance of his command, she runs out of the house. After she leaves, Mrs. Varin threatens Von Beck with exposure, and he flies into a rage and strangles her. Nina runs to Frank for help, and when he returns to the Varin house, he finds Mrs. Varin's lifeless body. Meanwhile, the captain is holding a service at the church when the major interrupts to announce the surrender of the Germans. As the captain begins to sermonize about peace, the prison explodes and the townspeople run to rescue the prisoners. Finding Altmeier burned and beaten, Andrei diagnoses that he has only one hour to live. Von Beck is brought to the major for questioning, and after the major suggests that Mrs. Varin's murder was linked to the explosion, Von Beck asserts that his sister-in-law engineered the blast and accuses Katry of executing it. As Katry charges Von Beck with the deed, Altmeier calls from his bed and then dies. One of the other German soldiers recognizes Von Beck, however, and denounces him. Realizing that he has been duped, Katry recants, but Von Beck remains defiant, boasting that Germany will rise again. For his infamy, Von Beck is sentenced to die before a firing squad, and his execution is witnessed by the people of Kolar. Having accomplished the regeneration of the town, the major and his troops bid the people farewell, and as they all wave goodbye, John embraces Helena's daughter.
Herbert J. Biberman
Herbert J. Biberman
Herbert J. Biberman
Lt. Col. Gerard N. Byrne G.s.c. U.s. Army
Albert S. D'agostino
Edward A. Golden
Francis M. Sarver
James G. Stewart
The Master Race
Producer Robert Golden gave the production its rather incendiary title in order to capitalize on the success of his earlier anti-Nazi film, Hitler's Children (1943). The story was the brainchild of Herbert J. Biberman (1900-1971), the progressive producer, director and screenwriter now best known as one of the Hollywood Ten, who were blacklisted for refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). In 1950, Biberman was sentenced to six months in prison for contempt of Congress. His wife, the actress Gale Sondergaard, was also blacklisted.
At this point, however, Biberman was showing promise in his film career. With only 3 other screenplays under his belt, and two previous films as director, he was chosen by Golden to flesh out his story into a working script and given the directorial reins. Although an item in Hollywood Citizen-News reported that Golden hired a total of nine different writers to work on the script, the only ones credited on screen and in the RKO Archives Script Files at the UCLA Arts Library-Special Collection are Biberman, Anne Froelick and Rowland Leigh.
A War Department memo from the time noted that the film was originally set in Czechoslovakia. That idea was scrapped, along with planned usage of actual footage of the October 1943 bombing of the French port of St. Nazaire. Although the picture was mostly shot in the studio and back lots, a Hollywood Reporter news item said some exterior background scenes were shot in New York.
Besides Biberman, the other notable name on this project is Russell Metty, the cinematographer who also shot Golden's Hitler's Children for RKO. Metty had been working in the industry for about 10 years at this point, mostly in B pictures, although he broke through into the major leagues with the Henry Fonda-Lucille Ball vehicle The Big Street (1942) and Tender Comrade (1943), starring Ginger Rogers as the lynchpin of a group of women who pool their resources to survive on the American homefront. That story's emphasis on the women's "share and share alike" philosophy was one of the films that landed screenwriter Dalton Trumbo in hot water as a suspected Communist, leading to his imprisonment and blacklisting as another of the Hollywood Ten.
Metty went on to a distinguished career. As the director of photography for several Douglas Sirk films, he brought a unique use of color and shadow to that director's melodramas, among them Magnificent Obsession (1954), All That Heaven Allows (1955), Written on the Wind (1956), and Imitation of Life (1959). Perhaps his most lasting achievement, however, was Orson Welles's film noir Touch of Evil (1958), with its legendary three-and-a-half-minute opening tracking shot. Ironically, Metty won his only Academy Award for Spartacus (1960), a production in which his role was largely usurped by director Stanley Kubrick (and one of the films that broke the blacklist by hiring and giving credit to Trumbo).
Speaking of Welles, the lead here, George Coulouris as the dastardly Von Beck, played Charles Foster Kane's nemesis, the banker Thatcher, in Citizen Kane (1941). Coulouris reprised his role as Von Beck in a January 1945 Lux Radio Theatre broadcast of a 60-minute version of the story.
The film did not do as well as Hitler's Children at the box office and got only middling reviews. Bosley Crowther in the New York Times wrote, "One can't help but feel keen disappointment when a subject of tremendous human scope is tossed upon the screen in slipshod fashion, with little dramatic clarity."
Director: Herbert J. Biberman
Producers: Edward A. Golden, Robert Golden
Screenplay: Herbert J. Biberman, Anne Froelick, Rowland Leigh, from a story by Biberman
Cinematography: Russell Metty
Editing: Ernie Leadlay
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Jack Okey
Music: Roy Webb
Cast: George Coulouris (Von Beck), Stanley Ridges (Phil Carson), Osa Massen (Helena), Carl Esmond (Andrei), Nancy Gates (Nina)
By Rob Nixon
The Master Race
According to a pre-production news item in Hollywood Reporter, the studio planned to include actual footage of the October 1943 bombing of the French port of St. Nazaire in this film. Another Hollywood Reporter news item adds that some of the exterior background scenes used in this picture were shot in New York. According to the Variety review and a news item in Hollywood Citizen-News, producer Robert Golden chose The Master Race as the title to capitalize on the success of his 1942 film Hitler's Children (see entry above). A Hollywood Reporter news item adds that Golden bought an original story by Herbert J. Biberman, designating that it would be produced under the title of "The Master Race." This was the inaugural production of Golden's independent production company. Although a news item in Hollywood Citizen-News claims that Golden hired a total of nine different writers to work on the script, the only writers credited in the RKO Archives Script Files at the UCLA Arts Library-Special Collection are Biberman, Anne Froelick and Rowland Leigh. According to a War Department memorandum contained in NARS, the film was originally set in Czechoslovakia and in the original script, the character of "Von Beck" was executed. Nancy Gates and George Colouris reprised their roles in a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast on January 15, 1945.
Released in United States 1944
Released in United States January 1998
Released in United States January 1998 (Shown in New York City (Walter Reade) as part of program "7th Annual New York Jewish Film Festival" January 10-22, 1998.)
Released in United States 1944