Cast & Crew
Somewhere in England, war correspondent Manning arrives at the home base of a Free French air squadron led by Captain Freycinet and is particularly impressed by Jean Matrac, a gunner. Later, he asks Freycinet for Matrac's story: At the outbreak of the war, Freycinet receives orders to return to France from Southeast Asia. Also on board the ship, the Ville de Nancy , is Major Duval, a follower of Marshal Philippe Pétain, and some of his men. They soon receive word that the Germans have broken through the Maginot Line. Shortly after passing through the Panama Canal, the crew spots a suspicious boat containing five nearly dead men. The men--Matrac, Petit, Renault, Marius and Garou--claim to be Venezuelan miners trying to return to France, but Duval suspects that they have actually escaped from the penal colony at Devil's Island. Captain Patain Malo refuses to lock up the men as Duval demands and they are allowed to work for their passage. After Freycinet warns the men of Duval's suspicions, Renault admits that they are fugitives from Devil's Island and explains how they escaped: Petit was imprisoned for killing a policeman while defending his farm; Garou murdered his sweetheart during a lover's quarrel; Marius is a safecracker; and Renault is a deserter from the Army. On Devil's Island, the horrible conditions drive them to plan an escape with the help of Grandpère, an older convict who served his term but is not allowed to leave the island. As their leader, the men choose Matrac, who was sentenced to Devil's Island for his political activities in France: In 1938, Matrac is a journalist and fervent anti-Nazi. His newspaper is destroyed after he denounces Édouard Daladier for signing the Munich Pact with Adolf Hitler. Matrac and Paula, his girl friend, escape to the countryside where they are married, but soon discover that Matrac is accused of murdering a pressmen who was killed during the attack on the newspaper. Matrac is convicted of murder and sent to Devil's Island. As the men prepare to leave, Grandpère, a patriotic Frenchman, insists that each one swear to fight for France should they succeed in their escape attempt. When Freycinet hears their story, he agrees to help them. After Pétain signs an armistice with Germany, Malo fears that his cargo--valuable nickel ore--will fall into German hands if he docks in Marseille, so he changes course for England. When Duval discovers the change in plans, he and the Pétain loyalists try to take over the ship, but are thwarted by the other sailors and the convicts. One of Duval's men manages to radio their position to the Germans, however, and several men are killed in an aerial attack before Matrac shoots down the German plane. On his arrival in England, Matrac learns that he has a son whom he has never seen. Whenever possible on a mission, he flies his plane over Paula's house in France and he drops a letter to her. Tonight, however, Matrac's plane is badly damaged and he dies holding a letter to his son, which Freycinet later reads at his graveside.
Charles La Torre
Jean Del Val
Maurice St. Clair
Raymond St. Albin
Everett A. Brown
Jack R. Cosgrove
Edwin Du Par
Leo F. Forbstein
George James Hopkins
James Wong Howe
Jack L. Warner
Carl Jules Weyl
Passage to Marseille
For Passage to Marseille, Curtiz cast as many Europeans as possible, including several actors who had previously worked together on his masterpiece, Casablanca (1942) - Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Helmut Dantine, Claude Rains, singer Corinna Mura and Louis Mercier. Humphrey Bogart and George Tobias were the only American actors in key roles and they were playing Frenchmen. The script was based on a novella entitled Men Without Country by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, the authors of Mutiny on the Bounty. It first appeared in The Atlantic Monthly and was purchased by Warner Bros. for $75,000 - an astronomical sum for book properties in those days.
Curtiz was well known for his often dictatorial and gruff manner on movie sets and Passage to Marseille was no exception. There was constant tension between Curtiz and his chief photographer, James Wong Howe, over lighting and sets, with Howe threatening to walk off the film on one occasion. But everyone felt his wrath when the film fell behind schedule and technical problems were not always solved to his satisfaction. "If Mike would only be patient and not try to run the Camera Dept., the Effects Dept., the Electrical Dept., and all the other departments and give orders all day long everyone would be able to function much more efficiently," reported one unit manager on the film (in The Casablanca Man: The Cinema of Michael Curtiz by James C. Robertson). Even Bogart and Peter Lorre created some problems with their lack of cooperation at times. However, Curtiz's perfectionism finally did pay off as the film features uniformly excellent performances and an evocative atmosphere created by art director Carl Jules Weyl. The Devil's Island scenes, featuring an artificial, studio-created jungle and realistic prison sets, are extremely impressive in spite of any technical difficulties incurred. Plus, the film was considered an artistic and financial success, with the box office returns showing a profit of well over a million dollars - a veritable bonanza for its day and age. It also didn't hurt that the movie served up morale-building propaganda in an entertaining fashion.
In a poll conducted by the American Film Institute in June of 1999 to determine the top 50 screen legends of all time, the ever-popular Humphrey Bogart received the number one ranking. By 1943 when he made Passage to Marseille, he was already a top box office draw and one of the most respected actors in the industry. Yet, as powerful as his position may have looked to others, he still had to contend with movie mogul Jack Warner as a boss. Studio heads in those days were known to stoop to anything to keep their stars in line. In Rudy Behlmer's Inside Warner Bros. (1935-1951), we get an inside account of what even a star of Bogart's reputation had to put up with when negotiating with Warner.
Bogart wanted to do Passage to Marseille because he saw it as an important contribution to the war effort and to his career. But in order for Warner to give his go ahead on the film, he wanted Bogart to commit to starring in a minor movie project which came to be known as Conflict (1945). Bogie was not eager to play the part of a husband plotting his wife's murder in order to marry her sister. This was mostly because he wanted to protect his newly developed image as the good guy/hero and he'd had his fill of playing gangsters, thugs and murderers in the years before The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Casablanca (1942). So, when Warner tried to force the film on him, Bogie rebelled. The following excerpts are from a conversation between Bogart and Warner that took place on May 6, 1943 and appears in its entirety in Behlmer's aforementioned book.
Bogart: "This is personal between you and me, Jack. I am more serious than I have ever been in my life and I just do not want to do this picture [Conflict]. If you want to get tough with me you can, and I know how tough you can get, but if you do get tough and do the things you say you will, I will feel that I have lost a friend"
Later in the conversation, Warner asks for loyalty: "You must remember, Humphrey, it is not Jack Warner that is asking you to do this picture. You are doing this for the company, and the same thing would happen in the steel business." Bogart answers: "It isn't the same as the steel business; you are selling people with feelings, and I tell you sincerely I can't do it. You can do all kinds of things to me, but I just can't do this picture."
In another exchange Warner says: "In this business you can't always take the apples off the tree; you have to take some of them that are on the ground." And Bogie responds: "Then you admit that this is a rotten apple." Warner answers: "No, I don't admit any such thing. You may think that it is not good for you, but I think it will be great, and want you to rely on my judgment." Finally, Bogart says: "I know you can't always have good apples all of the time, and I am perfectly willing to take some that are rotten, but not this time."
Later, in answer to Bogart's accusation about threats, Warner says: "No, I am not threatening you, but if you don't want to play ball I will have to think along certain terms contractual-wise. We will have to suspend you and we will not put you in Passage to Marseille."
After much haggling and discourse, Bogart finally did Conflict which was little more than a mediocre melodrama and not one of Bogart's better films. But his agreement to do it allowed him to make Passage to Marseille and many other exceptional films at Warner Bros. like Key Largo (1948) so we can all be happy for Bogart's concessions that May day in 1943.
Producer: Hal B. Wallis
Director: Michael Curtiz
Screenplay: Jack Moffitt, Casey Robinson Based on the novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall
Art Direction: Carl Jules Weyl
Cinematography: James Wong Howe
Editing: Owen Marks
Music: Max Steiner, Ned Washington
Cast: Humphrey Bogart (Matrac), Michele Morgan (Paula), Claude Rains (Capt. Freycinet), Sydney Greenstreet (Maj. Duval), Peter Lorre (Marius), Philip Dorn (Renault), George Tobias (Petit), John Loder (Manning), Helmut Dantine (Garou), Eduardo Ciannelli (Chief Engineer), Vladimir Sokoloff (Grandpere).
BW-110m. Closed captioning.
by Joseph D'Onofrio
Passage to Marseille
During filming, Lauren Bacall was brought to the set in order to gauge her chemistry with Humphrey Bogart with whom she would soon be co-starring in _To Have and Have Not (1945)_ . This was famous duo's first meeting, though it would be months before their romance began.
The film begins with the following written statement: "This is the story of a Free French Air Squadron. It is also the story of France. For a nation exists not alone in terms of maps and boundaries, but in the hearts of men. To millions of Frenchmen, France has never surrendered. And today, she lives immortal and defiant, in the spirit of the Free French Air Force, as it carries her war to the skies over the Rhineland." Marshal Philippe Pétain signed an armistice on June 25, 1940. He headed the collaborationist Vichy government until 1944. The film is structured in a Chinese box-like series of flashbacks that was criticized by contemporary reviewers as a confusing device. Although the film was not a sequel to Warner Bros.' popular 1943 film Casablanca, it reunited many of the cast members of that film in a similar story about a seemingly cynical idealist. According to information in the file on the film at the AMPAS Library, technical advisor Sylvain Robert was the vice-president of the Fighting French movement in Southern California and Jean Gabin was considered for the role of "Matrac." A July 26, 1943 Hollywood Reporter news item notes that some scenes were shot on location in Victorville, CA. A September 17, 1943 Hollywood Reporter news item reports that a full-scale Merchant Marine vessel modeled after the French ship the Ville de Nancy was built by Warner Bros. for the film. The ship took three months to build.
Released in United States Spring March 11, 1944
Released in United States Spring March 11, 1944