A look at 'Cinema's Exiles'


January 01, 2009

Casablanca, the classic movie about love, sacrifice and the Nazis, is at the very heart of a new documentary that is about, well, love, sacrifice and the Nazis.

Cinema's Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood looks at film and social history of the 1920s, '30s, '40s and '50s through the lens of German and Austrian filmmakers, composers, cinematographers, actors and screenwriters forced to flee Hitler's Germany.

Some of the newcomers failed in Hollywood, some thrived, but mostly they just survived. There are only a handful of emigres like Billy Wilder who literally changed American film.

Many of those who survived, often through the kindness of those who thrived like Marlene Dietrich, pop up in Casablanca as bit actors. The filmmakers lovingly deconstruct a scene in Rick's Cafe that is wall-to-wall German-accented martini drinkers who were once important players in the European film industry.

This is an ambitious and uneven documentary, but all of it is riveting. In the end, Cinema's Exiles is more than anything else a testament to Hollywood, which manages in this story to be both big-hearted and small-minded (9:30 p.m., MPT-Channels 22 and 67). *** 1/2

Late-night guests Actress Vivica A. Fox visits Late Night with Conan O'Brien. Actor Mark Harmon visits Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.

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