The next title up for review in the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film is one I’d previously covered as I return to the Action & Adventure genre, the fantastic Wages of Fear, so I dove right into the few recommendations for this one that I hadn’t covered yet, starting with this French-German made film that sees German miners desperately trying to rescue their French colleagues after a mining disaster strikes on their shared border.
It’s 1931, the first World War is over, reparations are being made, and both sides are striving to maintain an uneasy peace, forge new friendships and perhaps find an economic stability together.
Two neighboring mines become the focal point of the story, as the French attempt to contain a lingering fire while continuing with their digging. The Germans, unaffected by the fire as long as their is no gas leak, continue their own mining until disaster strikes. The fire breaks free and the mines begin to collapse, claiming lives, and leaving the rest, some 600 miners, trapped 2000 ft below ground in the dark.
Hearing of the disaster, a rescue squad of miners from the neighboring German town prepare to help.
While the town waits above, longing for word of their loved ones trapped underground, the German rescue squad arrives on site to help, while back on the German side of the border, the miners there begin to dig in an attempt to connect the two mines and rescue the French that way.
While nowhere near as claustrophobic as a film like this should be, for the time, you can tell how this one could have captivated, and even now, it’s a solid piece of film making,
We get moments with a number of characters including, on the French side, Emile (Georges Charlia), Jean (Daniel Mendaille) and young Georges (Pierre-Louis) and his retired grandfather (Alex Bernard) who goes in after his young relative while on the German side we check in with the leader of the rescue squad, Wittkopp (Ernst Busch) and the diggers in the German mine led by Kasper (Alexander Granach).
It’s not always easy for any of the characters, the shadow of World War I still hangs over both towns and nations, and trust isn’t always easily earned, but it’s about doing what’s right, no matter the cost, and helping because we can.
While I can totally see a remake making this a tighter, and more claustrophobic experience, the idea of this film, coming so quickly on the heels of the first World War, and before the specter of the Third Reich reared its head, must have made this film an amazing experience at the time.
And once again, it’s a film I never would have heard of, if it weren’t for this book. Glad I can say I’ve seen it now!