The Search (1948)

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Although Montgomery Clift shot this film The Search (1948) following Red River (1948), it was released six months earlier and the combined success of  both immediately made him a star.

The film, which was the first to be made in Europe after  WWII  with an American director and cast, was partially based on Europe’s Children, a book of photographs by Therese Bonney documenting the orphans of the war.

Shot in the American occupied zone of Germany, much of the film, the product of years of research, was based on actual incidents.

It opens at the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration camp at which war orphans, who have been found wandering through bombed-out ruins, are given temporary housing. The severely traumatized children, many of whom are survivors of concentration camps whose parents are dead,  find normal communication almost impossible. Karel Malik (Ivan Jandl), a young Czech boy, is one of these.  His mother, Hanna (Jarmilia Novotna),  lost contact with him when they were in Auschwitz and she now travels from one refugee camp to another in search of her son. While being transported in an ambulance, some of the children, including Karel, break out and scatter. American G.I. Ralph Stevenson Clift finds him wandering aimlessly, takes him back to his base to feed him, and begins to teach him English.

Review by Michael Castello

Fred Zinnemann’s semi-documentary film on the plight of  WWII orphans has moments of banality, but remains a sobering meditation on the incalculable damage wrought by war with a startlingly fresh performance by Montgomery Clift.

The filmmakers’ decision to divide the film into two sections — one, a relatively detached documentary complete with voiceover narration about the UN’s relief work with the children, and another dealing with Clift’s relationship with the boy Ivan Jandl — gives the film a somewhat uneven quality despite the virtues of both approaches. Although many of the children are death camp survivors, their experiences are touched upon only by inference, with the desperate escape from the ambulance a register of their unabated terror. The naturalness and absence of cliché in Clift‘s performance, which lends an unforced credibility to his efforts to care for the boy, was a striking departure at the time and would become highly influential with other actors.

Clint Eastwood, strangely enough, has cited this as the performance that had the greatest impact on his own career. Indeed, Clift’s presence is so strong that compared with the work of the opera star Jarmilia Novotna, who plays the boy’s mother,  it seems strange that the boy should finally be reunited with her.

Montgomery Clift- Ralph Stevenson
Aline MacMahon- Mrs. Murray
Jarmila Novotna- Mrs. Malik
Ewart G. Morrison- Mr. Crookes
Ivan Jandl- Karel Malik
Wendell Corey- Jerry Fisher
Mary Patton- Mrs. Fisher
Will Rogers, Jr.- Tom Fisher
Leopold Borkowski- Joel Makowsky
Claude Gambler- Raoul Dubois

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