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Film / Watch on the Rhine

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Watch on the Rhine is a 1943 wartime drama film adapted from a 1941 Lillian Hellman play, directed by Herman Shumlin and starring Paul Lukas and Bette Davis.

Kurt and Sara Muller (Lukas and Davis) and their three children have come to America to visit Sara's family, the Farrellys. Sara has lived in Europe with Kurt for nearly 20 years and Sara's mother and brother have never met her husband and children. It is soon revealed that Kurt has spent the past seven years as an anti-fascist guerilla fighting against Hitler and the Nazis. The Mullers have come home so that Kurt can recuperate after being injured rescuing another anti-fascist, but Kurt's work is put in danger again when a Farrelly houseguest, Count Teck de Brancovis (George Couloris), figures out what Kurt has been up to in Europe and decides to sabotage his next mission.

Watch on the Rhine was nominated for four Academy Awards. It lost Best Picture to a little film called Casablanca, but Lukas beat Humphrey Bogart for the Best Actor award.


  • All Germans Are Nazis: This is completely averted, as the hero and main character Kurt Muller is a staunch anti-Nazi who had to flee Germany with his American wife when the Nazis came to power. He now works with the resistance against them. The villain in fact is Romanian, not German, working on the Nazis' behalf.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Teck? Not a good guy. A Romanian, he had a falling out with the Nazis at some point and had to leave Europe, but he wants to get back in their good graces and go home.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: Kurt could just stay in America and be perfectly safe, and Teck's scheming wouldn't matter. But after a leader of the German resistance network is arrested, Kurt is honor-bound to go back and try and get him out. Teck then threatens to warn the Nazis, which would make it much less likely that Kurt would make it back alive.
  • The Exile: Kurt and his family had to leave Germany in 1933.
  • The Film of the Play: Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine was a big hit on Broadway in 1941. Paul Lukas originated the role of Kurt in that production.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: A distressed, sorrowful Kurt says this to Mrs. Farrelly and David after taking Teck out back and shooting him.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Mrs. Farrelly is quite unembarrassed to say this about herself.
  • La Résistance: This is Kurt's job, as he finally admits after his family wonders what he's been up to in Europe over the last several years.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The play and the film both debuted during the thick of World War II.
  • Romantic False Lead: There isn't much doubt that Teck's wife Martha is going to leave him for Sara's brother David, given how sick she is of him right at the start.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: A couple at the German embassy, including the one that Teck tries to sell information about Muller.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: The Muller children are absurdly sophisticated and well-mannered. Mrs. Farrelly wonders if they're really children, or dressed-up midgets.