Cast & Crew
In the days following the end of World War II, a train carrying dozens of war orphans from all over Europe arrives at a United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration camp that has been established to temporarily house the children. Many of the children have been found wandering the bombed-out ruins of Europe's cities and countryside, or have been rescued from various concentration camps. Their spirits are broken and their faces register only fear and distrust. After the children are cleaned and fed, interviews are conducted to determine their identities, a process that is conducted under the supervision of Mrs. Murray, an American. One of the young boys interviewed is French, and he explains that his mother was taken away from him and that his father was killed. After hearing the heartbreaking story of two Polish children whose parents were killed in a concentration camp, the interviewers listen to the equally sad story of a Hungarian girl who was ordered to sort the clothes of concentration camp victims, and who found her own mother's blouse among the clothes. The children are severely traumatized by their experiences, especially a young Czechoslovakian boy named Karel Malik, who had been separated from his family and last saw his mother Hanna at the Auschwitz concentration camp. The only words Karel is able to speak are in German: "I don't know." While being transported to more permanent camps in ambulances, some of the children panic, convinced that they are going to be gassed, and break out of the ambulances. Several of the children escape, and while most are quickly recovered, Karel and another boy elude capture by jumping into a river. Karel's companion drowns in the river, and Karel, whose identity is still unknown by the UNRRA authorities, is presumed drowned as well after his cap is found floating in the water. Meanwhile, Hanna, who has survived the concentration camp experience, has begun a search for her family. After learning that her husband and daughter have been killed, Hanna sets out to find Karel. She travels from one children's camp to another for many months and without success before she meets Mr. Crookes, an Englishman who tells her that her son is in the Catholic orphanage he oversees. Hanna's excitement is quickly dashed, however, when she realizes that the boy is not her son. The boy says he is Karel Malik, but it is later learned that he is a Polish Jew who had adopted Karel's name when it was read during a roll call and no one responded. Karel, meanwhile, continues to wander among the war-torn ruins of Germany until he is found one day by an American soldier named Ralph "Steve" Stevenson. Steve gives Karel food, takes him home and teaches him English. Though Karel makes rapid progress learning the new language, he is unable to remember enough details about his identity for Steve to locate his parents. Hanna's search eventually leads her to the UNRRA camp where Karel was first processed. When Hanna describes Karel's features and clothing, Mrs. Murray recalls the cap found by the river and grimly shows it Hanna as evidence that Karel had drowned. Hanna, however, refuses to accept the news that her son is dead, and continues her desperate search. Hanna eventually gives up her search, however, and accepts a job working with Mrs. Murray at the UNRRA camp. Steve, meanwhile, becomes convinced that Karel's mother is dead, and makes plans to take the boy back to the States with him. One day, after the Jewish orphans at Mrs. Murray's camp leave for Palestine, Hanna decides to quit her job and continue her search for Karel. Only minutes after Hanna leaves the camp, Steve arrives with Karel to secure formal permission from Mrs. Murray to take the boy back to the States. Mrs. Murray recognizes Karel and races to the train to prevent Hanna from leaving, but she arrives just as the train is pulling out. Hanna, however, is not on board the train because she has decided to stay on at the camp. Without telling her the news, Mrs. Murray takes Hanna back to camp, where mother and son are reunited.
Ewart G. Morrison
Robert D. Mockler
Zinnemann's achievement is all the more remarkable given the resourcefulness of his small crew (which consisted of only ten Swiss technicians) who did everything for the shoots. They had primitive equipment which was packed into one truck and they traveled like gypsies from one bombed area to another, trying to get as many good takes as they could, since negative film stock was very expensive at the time. The majority of the film was shot in the American Zone of Germany which was actually the rubble remains of Nuremberg. Interior scenes, such as the scene where the UNRRA officer (Aline MacMahon) enters a waiting room full of refugee children, were shot in a converted Zurich garage.
The Search is particularly notable for its excellent ensemble performances. For the role of the soldier, Zinnemann chose Montgomery Clift. It served the director well that Clift had made only one film prior to this, Red River (which was not yet released) and helped ensure that the film would not turn into a "star" vehicle, thus diluting its dramatic impact. The Search also proved a most moving experience for Clift as he was later quoted as saying the film was the most fulfilling artistic experience of his career; it gave him a chance to dig deep and study a character far removed from his own life experiences. Clift prepared himself for the role by living with an army engineering unit outside of Zurich. He was particularly interested in developing a soldier's gait; he believed that a character could be defined on how a person moved. Clift also cherished his working relationship with Zinnemann, who allowed Clift to improvise some dialogue that he felt was necessary to more fully realize his character.
The rest of the casting was equally inspired: veteran character actress, Aline MacMahon, had one of her most memorable roles as the woman in charge of the UNRRA camps for children. Wendell Corey (who was vacationing in Zurich at the time of location hunting) was cast as Clift's pal, and Metropolitan Opera star, Jarmila Novotna, was cast as the destitute mother. The most pivotal role, however, was played by Ivan Jandl. He spoke no English and learned his lines by rote. Yet Clift, who always had a special affinity for children, worked with Ivan slowly, patiently cueing him on his dialogue until the camera rolled. As a result, Jandl came to rely on Clift throughout the shoot as a drama coach, making their relationship on screen that much more realistic.
The Search opened nationwide on March 26, 1948, and received unanimous praise. It won Oscars for David Wechsler and Robert Schweitzer for Best Story and a special Oscar for Jandl (outstanding juvenile performance). It also advanced the careers of Zinnemann and Clift, earning them nominations for Best Director and Actor respectively.
Producer: Lazar Wechsler
Director: Fred Zinnemann
Screenplay: Montgomery Clift (uncredited), Paul Jarrico, Richard Schweizer (also story), David Wechsler (also story)
Cinematography: Emil Berna
Film Editing: Hermann Haller
Original Music: Robert Blum
Principal Cast: Montgomery Clift (Ralph Stevenson), Aline MacMahon (Mrs. Murray), Wendell Corey (Jerry Fisher), Jarmila Novotna (Mrs. Malik), Mary Patton (Mrs. Fisher), Ewart G. Morrison (Mr. Crookes)
By Michael Toole
The Variety review erroneously credits Edward G. Robinson with the role of "Mr. Crookes" and lists Leopold Borowski's surname as Markowski. Much of the story of The Search was based on actual events that took place in Europe after World War II, and is narrated in a documentary-like style. The screen credits contain the following written acknowledgment: "Portions of the film were produced in the United States occupied zone of Germany through the kind permission of the United States Army and the cooperation of I.R.O." The film was the first picture to be made in Europe after the end of World War II with an American director and American stars. It was also the second motion picture produced in Switzerland by Praesens Films and distributed by M-G-M.
According to a New York Times article, the film was inspired, in part, by Therese Bonney's book Europe's Children, a photographic study of Europe's war orphans. Another New York Times article noted that M-G-M provided fifty percent of the film's $250,000 budget and agreed to loan out director Fred Zinnemann for the production. An April 1948 Washington, D.C. Times-Herald article notes that Zinnemman interviewed hundreds of children in displacement camps and used their stories to form the basis of the film. According to various contemporary sources, M-G-M released Zinnemann as part of its "economy drive" to pare down its payroll.
The film marked Montgomery Clift's motion picture debut. Although Clift completed his work on the film Red River before he began work on The Search, Red River had its premiere five months after The Search. Clift was a former stage actor who starred in his first Broadway play at the age of thirteen. According to studio publicity materials, the nine-year-old Czechoslovakian boy Ivan Jandl was discovered by Zinnemann at a Prague radio studio, where Jandl and other children were performing a musical recital. Jandl spoke no English at the time of production and had no professional training as an actor. Czech-born assistant director Mila Mellanova translated Zinnemann's directions into Czech for Jandl, who learned his English lines by rote. The Search is the only American film in which Jandl appeared, though he had a minor, non-speaking part in a Czechoslovakian film called Varuj. Metropolitan Opera star Jarmila Novotna, who appeared in several European stage and film productions, made her American motion picture debut in The Search.
Studio publicity materials add the following information about the film: The production required several years of research and planning, as well as five location trips to Germany. Actress Aline MacMahon prepared for her role by spending three days at a relocation camp for displaced children. Clift prepared for his role by living among soldiers at an army engineers unit near Zurich. The children in the displacement camp sequences were played by actual war victims who were under the care of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), and who were personally selected for parts in the film by Zinnemann and Wechsler. Actual members of British and American field organizations also appeared in the film.
According to a contemporary news article, Zinnemann acknowledged that war orphans used in the film as extras were terrified of the re-enactments in which they participated. Zinnemann is quoted as having said, "I explained it was make-believe, just for a movie. But when I asked them to stand before the camera and hold numbered cards, for a screen test, they shook with fear. The numbers reminded them of concentration camps." Zinnemann added, however, that the children "understood the movie would help the cause of displaced persons, so they didn't mind." In his autobiography, Zinnemann stated that he wanted to show America what had happened in Europe during the war, and that to do so, he was obliged to moderate the truth, noting that, "otherwise, people would have been unable to bear it."
The film's exteriors were filmed on location in the American zone of Germany, principally in and around Nuremberg, as well as Munich, Würzburg and Frankfurt. Interior scenes were filmed in Zurich, Switzerland. The Search was well-received by critics, some of whom underscored the fact that it was made on a modest budget. The New York Times reviewer said of the film: "Our earnest wish is that it might be seen by every adult in the United States." The Variety reviewer, though critical of the "saccharine finale," generally praised the film, noting that "films like The Search can be a decisive factor in causing the world to take a deep breath and give another thought to the fearful eyes of those children before it plunges itself off the present brink and into another international catastrophe."
Jandl won a special Academy Award for "outstanding juvenile performance." Clift was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor but lost to Laurence Olivier. Writers Richard Schweizer and David Wechsler, the son of the producer, won an Academy Award for their story, and were nominated for an Academy Award for their screenplay. Zinnemann was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Direction, and received an award from the Screen Directors Guild. Following his work on The Search, Zinnemann returned to Hollywood and signed a three-year contract with RKO. Soon after he signed with RKO, Zinnemann was sought by M-G-M to direct Act of Violence.
A biography of Clift notes the following: Novelist and screenplay writer Peter Viertel was involved in the development of an early draft of the script but quit in protest when all references to Adolf Hitler's "final solution" were removed from the screenplay. Viertel, and Clift, too, felt that the film was flawed for having glossed over the harshest Nazi atrocities in favor of a more palatable story. Clift re-wrote and improvised many of his lines, disregarding the repeated warnings of the producers not to tamper with the script. The battle over Clift's lines developed into a bitter feud between Lazar Wechsler and Clift, eventually requiring the intervention of lawyers. Tensions on the set were heightened further when Clift, refused to sign another contract with M-G-M unless Wechsler agreed to let him rewrite a pivotal scene in which his character tells the Czechoslovakian boy that his mother has died. In the end, Clift prevailed and the scene was rewritten. Clift is quoted in his biography as having once said of the script, "it's like The Yearling with sugar added."