At the end of the day, it is hard to determine why some films stand the test of time and become iconic, while others fade into relative obscurity. One example of a strong film fading into the ether was up last in Dark Journey and we visit another one now in 1944’s Address Unknown.
This is a strong picture directed by the famed cinematographer William Cameron Menzies and as such is shot wonderfully in some of the finer shots ever filmed in black and white. Strangely though, Menzies was not credited with an Academy Award Nomination, with the film’s two nominations coming for art direction and best score- loosing in both categories.
Perhaps some of the reason for this one’s fade into obscurity is the lack of any real star power behind the picture. Although wonderfully gifted, Paul Lukas, who plays the lead here, never commanded tremendous fame. Lukas is supported by a strong supporting cast but again one that is lacking in name recognition.
What the picture lacks in star power it makes up for in suspense and sheer enjoyment. Lukas plays Martin Shulz, an art dealer in partnership with a Jewish man, Max Eisenstein (played by Morris Carnovsky). Their families are very close- with Lukas’ son romantically involved with Carnovsky’s daughter. Presumably prior to the war, Lukas and his family emigrate to Germany, while Carnovsky’s family remains in the States.
Lukas comes under the Nazi’s spell and ultimately plays a role in the death of Carnovsky’s daughter. Shortly thereafter he begins receiving letters from Max in completely meaningless code, which alerts the Gestapo to potential espionage until Lukas is imprisoned (presumably). There is a great twist at the end which we won’t go into here – even what I did say is perhaps too much.
This is a film which surely deserves much more recognition than it currently receives. It is not only well acted and well shot, but it is a very tight production. With a run time of only 75 minutes, nary a shot or frame is wasted. Truly a very fine film and one which should be released in some format.
Unfortunately this is one of the very few films which isn’t available on any format – no VHS, no DVD, and obviously no bluray. If you can catch a showing on TCM tivo it and you will not be sorry.
Extremely highly recommended.