Cast & Crew
In Nazi Germany, a teacher indoctrinates his impressionable students with the glories of Hitler and evils of democracy. Becoming agitated when one of his classmates denounces his own mother for criticizing Hitler's policies, Paul Graffen, a student in the class, returns home and begs his parents to speak out against the Reich. In response, Mr. and Mrs. Graffen remind their son that the safety of their family depends on their silent cooperation with the Nazi oppressors. The next day, Paul and his classmates are sent on a field trip to Dachau. There the boys are ordered to kill a group of prisoners by striking them with a shovel. Conscience-stricken, Paul comes to the aid of one of the outspoken victims. The man, Dr. Brower, is mortally wounded, but before dying, he instructs Paul to flee to America and gives him a letter addressed to Matthew Van Camp, the principal of Ashland High School. Paul crosses the ocean to America, and when he presents Van Camp with the letter, the principal fondly recalls his studies in Germany under the tutelage of Dr. Bower. Van Camp welcomes Paul and offers the boy refuge. At a meeting of the student council, Paul raptly watches as council president Pat Daniels lectures the students about accepting responsibility for their actions. Later, Paul joins the other students in class and excels in math. When Johnny Reynolds, the school's star football player, loses interest in his studies and seems in danger of failing, Pat asks Paul to tutor him. Johnny resents Paul's interest in Pat, however, and the two boys argue. Pat pleads with Paul to continue his instruction, and Paul successfully coaches Johnny to pass his exams. Rather than being grateful, however, Johnny continues to resent Paul. To earn extra money, Paul starts a baby sitting service and Pat teaches him the fundamentals of child care. Before leaving to meet Johnny at a party that night, Pat convinces Paul to speak on the evils of Nazism at a benefit she is organizing for the blood bank. At the party, Johnny begins to criticize Paul, causing Pat to decide to leave early and take Paul some ice cream. Johnny follows her and accuses Paul of being a Nazi. When the two boys begin to fight, Pat orders Johnny to leave. In the locker room the next day, Johnny sees in Paul's pocket a letter written in German and steals it. Before Paul's speech that night, the boy's druggist friend, Jan Dorchik, a refugee like himself, mentions that Paul's words may reach Germany over the shortwave radio. The idea arouses Paul's concerns for his family's safety, and when Johnny phones Paul and anonymously warns him that his family will suffer if he goes through with his speech, Paul begins to have second thoughts. Approaching the microphone, Paul nervously begins to defend Hitler and Germany, thus engendering boos from the audience. In a trance, Paul stumbles off stage and goes to Van Camp's darkened office. Meanwhile, Johnny, suffering pangs of guilt, shows Van Camp the letter addressed to Paul's parents. When Van Camp translates Paul's words, expressing devotion to his new country and friends, Johnny confesses that he made a threatening phone call to Paul. Meanwhile, Paul, tortured by the feeling that he has violated the trust of his friends, conducts an imaginary dialogue with his mother and concludes that he must finish his speech. Stepping back to the microphone, Paul condemns Hitler's policies and rallies the audience to defeat the Nazis in the defense of democracy. That June, the students graduate, and as Pat and Paul walk arm in arm, Paul tells her that he has won his citizenship and plans to enlist in the military and defend his country.
Betty Jane Graham
William Yetter Jr.
Phil Van Zandt
Wilfrid H. Pettitt
Michael L. Simmons
They Live in Fear -
A student in Nazi Germany, Paul Graffen, is lectured at school about the glories of Nazism, then taken to the Dachau concentration camp and commanded to kill some prisoners. Horrified, he manages to flee to America and enters a high school there, where new conflicts arise with fellow students. Ultimately he must decide whether to publicly denounce Nazi Germany, which would endanger his family still living there, or speak his conscience.
The film was criticized across the board as blatant, simplistic, preachy propaganda, especially since it is set in pre-Pearl Harbor days but was released in 1944, when a debate over Nazis made as much sense as a debate over whether the earth is round. The film was likely made as a way to capitalize on the success of 1943's Hitler's Children, produced by RKO; an even better film with similar subject material had been made in 1940, MGM's The Mortal Storm. Of They Live in Fear, Variety said: "A frantic potboiler seems to go on the theory that Americans should pay theatre admissions to find out our way of life is better than the Nazi formula for living. It's a waste of critical raw stock that could have well been used producing film entertainment."
The Hollywood Reporter called the picture "inept.... The producers...have gone out of their way to cram every possible line and sequence that could be labeled patriotic preaching into their show... It has resulted in a sad example of what can happen when the powerful weapon of propaganda is placed in hands incapable of wielding it wisely. Josef Berne's direction is slow and lacking in anything that couldn't have been accomplished with a bull whip."
Critics, however, had nothing but praise for star Otto Kruger, who plays the high school principal. As Variety put it: "Otto Kruger, as usual, is excellent."
By Jeremy Arnold
They Live in Fear -
The working title of this film was America's Children. Although a Hollywood Reporter production chart places Howard Freeman in the cast, his participation in the released film has not been confirmed. Prior to They Live in Fear, Joseph Berne directed short films. Until this film, actor Paul Andor used the name Wolfgang Zilzer. A modern source adds Frederic Brunn to the cast.