ME AND THE COLONEL (Peter Glenville, 1958)

Danny Kaye did more than rein in his zaniness to play S.L. Jacobowsky, a Polish Jewish refugee attempting to exit Paris before the entrance of the Germans in 1940; he pretty much dispenses with it, giving a restrained, monotonous performance, and a nearly credible one, for which he won a Golden Globe. How I wish I enjoyed more Peter Glenville’s film version of Franz Werfel’s play Jacobowsky und der Oberst, or at least halfway believed the sort of détente reached by humble, philosophical Jacobowsky and the fellow refugee with whom he is attempting his escape, Colonel Prokoszny, an arrogant anti-Semite who comes from the same village in Poland. Actually, Curd Jurgens is far more convincing as the loutish colonel, and even he fails to convince on the score of this late-arriving détente between the two men. It doesn’t help that Suzanne, Prokoszny’s French companion and mistress, inflames his jealousy by warming up to Jacobowsky’s wryness and wit.
     It’s a slight (although long) thing, a comedy that takes poor advantage of the correct decision to be in black and white. It generates little suspense as to Jacobowsky’s fate because Kaye does not sufficiently inhabit the role he is playing; one knows that another Kaye film is soon to follow. However, I cannot dismiss the film entirely; it was a particular favorite of a friend of mine, whom I lost to leukemia a while back, and for the sake of whose memory I finally viewed it for the first time. Me and the Colonel, as it is called in this incarnation, is very gray and somewhat droll, but not imbued with the kind of power that we hope for from a film whose action needs to be measured against the sacred territory of the Holocaust.

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