Silent-ology and Movies Silently host World War One in Classic Film, a historical blogathon, on September 6 and 7, 2014.
Byzantine political alliances and colonialism led to the first global conflict in 1914 and today we are still intrigued and horrified by the senseless drama. The 1932 release Ever in My Heart looks at the domino effect of WWI on those who personally or politically clung to isolationism. Beulah Marie Dix (The Squaw Man, The Life of Jimmy Dolan) and Bertram Millhauser (The Perils of Pauline, The Spider Woman) wrote the story and screenplay, and the movie was directed by Archie Mayo (The Petrified Forest, Black Legion). Spoilers abound in this look at Ever in My Heart.
Mary Archer comes from a family with deep pride in their American roots, if little else. There has long been an understanding between Mary and her cousin Jeff (Ralph Bellamy) and everyone is anticipating a wedding now that Jeff is returning from studies in Europe. Jeff has brought home a friend from German, Hugo Wilbrandt (Otto Kruger) and for Mary and Hugo it is love at first sight. We don't see fireworks and hear a choir of angels. Mary and Hugo look at each other and come together as two halves of a heart that was meant to be one. The family, including brother Sam (Frank Albertson) and various aunts, are scandalized at Mary's attraction and quick engagement to the stranger. To the foreigner. Jeff graciously drops his romantic designs assuring Mary that she will be very happy as Hugo is "a grand fellow". Jeff will be, for a time, their closest friend.
Gentle and loving vignettes show us the passing of time and the growing of the Wilbrandt's love. Their courtship and marriage is defined by "their" song, Du, du liegst mir im Herzen, in English You, you are in my heart. Here is a lovely version of the song on YouTube by Erich Kunz. Stanwyck and Kruger are often filmed with their faces close together heightening our sense of their oneness.
You, you are in my heart
you, you are in my mind.
You, you cause me much pain,
You don't know how good I am for you.
Yes, yes, yes, yes you don't know how good I am for you.
So, as I love you
So, so love me too.
The most tender desires
I alone feel only for you.
Yes, yes, yes, yes I alone feel only for you.
But, but may I trust you
You, you with a light heart?
You, you know you can rely on me
You do know how good I am!
Yes, yes, yes, yes you do know how good I am!
And, and if in the distance,
it seems to me like your picture,
Then then I wish so much
that we were united in love.
Yes, yes, yes, yes that we were united in love.
Hugo finds a job as a respected and well-liked college professor in chemistry. He and Mary share a comfortable home with a precocious bi-lingual son, Teddy (Ronnie Crosby), a pet dachshund, and a devoted housekeeper (Clara Blandick). The Wilbrandt's share with their friends the joyous occasion when Hugo becomes an American citizen, and those loving friends and colleagues present an engraved loving cup as a gift.
In Commemoration of
His Oath of allegiance
The United States
His Friends and Associates
The incident in the Balkans and ensuing battles fill the newspapers and the public's appetite for gory details and propaganda is insatiable turning neighbour against neighbour, if that neighbour happens to be of German heritage. When America officially enters the war Hugo loses his position at the college and the loving friends, even family turn out to be of the fair weather brand. The loving cup is empty. Illness and starvation come to the little family, and the tragic death of their beloved son. Even the pet is set upon and killed by youngsters no doubt aping the attitude of their parents.
Eventually Mary's family step in to return her to her rightful place. They will even find a job for Hugo in the family-run factory if he agrees to change his name. It is too much for the beaten man who blames their lack of compassion for Teddy's death. He sends Mary off with the Archers for her own good, but Hugo returns to Germany. He writes to Mary:
"Think of me and remember that what I do is forced upon me. They let me be a citizen, but they won't let me be an American.
When you get this, I will be on the ocean. I am going where I belong - to fight for my people.
Heartbroken Mary eventually moves forward by joining the Red Cross as a canteen worker/organizer. Sam and Jeff are also in the military. Most telling is a conversation with Jeff in which he expresses the hope that after the conflict they can resume their earlier relationship. His tone and words are so different from his attitude before the war. Were these ideas buried or were they created anew by circumstance and propaganda?
Jeff: "You came out of it just the way I thought you would."
Mary: "Had to."
Jeff: "And now, here we are again just as before."
Mary: "Just as before. With time out for a dream."
Jeff: "Dream is right. It never would have worked out, Mary."
Mary: "Why not?"
Jeff: "Because you're American and he was German. Don't forget there was 300 years of Archers behind you before Hugo ever came along. Folks don't get away from what's bred in their blood and bones."
Mary: "Maybe you're right."
Jeff: "I know I'm right."
- SOMEWHERE IN FRANCE -
Mary is in charge of a canteen at a major gathering point for reinforcements. Sam is somewhere on the line. Jeff is in charge of the area and wary of German spies. Mary sees a lone soldier, a familiar back and neck seated at a table. The years, the disappointment and hate drift away as she walks as through a haze to Hugo. When Jeff enters the canteen Mary succeeds in diverting his attention from the spy he seeks. It was natural. It was instinct. Hugo comes to Mary's quarters and their reunion is bitter and sweet. She claims to regret her earlier actions.
Hugo: "Have you forgotten everything we had together? The tears and the laughs."
Mary: "I won't remember. I mustn't."
Mary remembers. She also has a picture of Sam on her dresser and the sight of American soldiers marching outside her window. Hugo will not be returning to his base with information that night. That night he and Mary rekindle their dream. They toast that lost dream in the morning with wine and with poison. The poison Mary confiscated from canteen volunteers intimidated by propaganda. Mary can't let Hugo carry out his military duty and she can't live without him. As Hugo unknowingly drifts away from life, they share their love and their song. One last time we see those faces close together.
Ever in My Heart works as a quiet domestic drama with a calamitous historical background and a lesson for us all. The melodramatic finale works as well because of the sensitive and sincere work of actors Stanwyck and Kruger who make us feel their hopelessness in the face of overwhelming circumstances. It also works because there was nothing subtle about World War One.