THE DIVIDED HEART (Charles Crichton, 1954)

Written by Richard Hughes and Jack Whittingham, and directed with restraint and fine intelligence by Charles Crichton, The Divided Heart is based on an actual event and tribunal ruling by the postwar U.S. Court of the Allied High Commission for Germany. The film is from the United Kingdom, and one senses the lesser result that Hollywood might have produced: either a soapy sudser or the sanctimonious sort of thing that Fred Zinnemann might have directed.
     The protagonist is a ten-year-old boy, Toni, who was adopted at three as a presumed orphan by a barren bourgeois German couple that has been able to provide him with extensive material comfort and, of course, love. His biological mother, it turns out, is alive. An impoverished Yugoslav refugee and peasant, she now wants back the son that the Germans had stolen from her during the war. Sonja Slavko’s simplicity and sadness contrasts with Inga Hartl’s complexity and neediness. Inga is the only mother that Toni remembers, and Sonja’s language is foreign to him.
     The film is a tad schematic. Its highlights are two wartime flashbacks, one per mother, and the judges’ final ruling. But the ruling is the right one; for once a child is not sacrificed to the current nonsense steeped in rigid prejudice predicated on presumptions about “the best interests of the child.” The court returns Toni to Sonja Slavko, acknowledging his humanity by citing what he is capable of contributing to her.
     Both lead actresses were honored by BAFTA, but for me at least Yvonne Mitchell is monotonous as Sonja. Cornell Borchers, on the other hand, is brilliant as Inga, who desperately wants to hold onto the boy she has raised.
     Woodrow Wilson himself (Wilson, Henry King, 1944), Alexander Knox deftly plays the chief justice.

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