THE SEARCH (Fred Zinnemann, 1948)

In 1946 nine-year-old Karel, a Czech boy who had been liberated from Auschwitz, flees a refugee center in U.S.-occupied Germany while his mother, whose husband and daughter were murdered by the Nazis, continues her search for him. The child and “Steve,” an American G.I., meanwhile have formed a close bond. It is Steve’s intent to bring “Jim”—what he calls this boy who has no memory of his real name—to the United States.
     Fred Zinnemann’s The Search, written by Richard Schweizer, David Wechsler and Paul Jarrico, is one of the most painful tearjerkers in existence precisely because the material it is ransacking—the death camps and those who survived them—is so agonizingly real and momentous. One of the commendable things that this film does is give some sense of the enormous number of displaced children.
     The story is, however, ludicrous in the extreme, and unconscionably the film runs on contrived missed opportunities for the mother and the son to reunite. Finally, after each believes the other to be dead, they find one another.
     But commending The Search are gripping documentary shots of Berlin in ruins and four memorable performances: young, agile Montgomery Clift as Steve, Aline MacMahon as the bright, compassionate director of a refugee center for children, opera singer Jarmila Novotna as the mother and, above all, Oscar-winner Ivan Jandl as the little boy. Jandl is almost unbearably affecting.
     Still, what does one say about so merciless an “entertainment”? It isn’t inhuman of us to respond to something like this film; our doing so may even certify our capacity for genuine feeling. Rather, it is inhuman of those who have contrived the film’s narrative and other elements in order to manipulate our emotions. What they have done, what they have wrought, is despicable.

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