Freedom Radio (1941)
|Derek Farr & Clive Brook|
Director Anthony Asquith’s 1941 film Freedom Radio is a fine example of British cinema’s attempts to quickly and cheaply remind the world of the truth about life under the Nazis. Set in 1939, just before the German invasion of Poland and the outbreak of war, it tells the story of a dentist Dr Karl Roder (Clive Brook) who starts to see how the realities of Nazi rule personally affect him.
At first he enjoys the patronage of Hitler, treating his teeth and enjoying the benefits of such links, but slowly he sees the realities of totalitarianism creep into his world. His drinking club for old university friends is closed, then his friend Father Landbach (Morland Graham) ...
... is beaten and arrested for preaching against Hitler. These scenes help to remind viewers that it was not only the Jews and the communists who felt the full force of oppression, showing how the safety and security of middle-class life were also being eroded. One has to wonder whether the intention was to convince the British middle-classes, elements of which had previously been sympathetic towards fascism, to abandon any thoughts that life under German occupation could be tolerable and might be compatible with their own lifestyle.
Dr Roder’s personal position is made difficult by his wife’s position within society.
|Diana Wynard & Clive Brook|
Frau Irena Roder (Diana Wynard) is a leading actress known for her traditional Germanic roles and, as such, is an obvious favourite of the Nazis. With her promotion to the position of the Reich’s ‘Director of Popular Plays and Pagentry’ ...
... Dr Roder finds himself trapped between his personal sense of morality and his loyalty to his wife. That her younger brother Otto (John Penrose) is also an enthusiastic member of the SS doesn’t help Roder’s sense of isolation.
|Diana Wynard & John Penrose|
Roder is offered a way to escape this feeling of frustration by a chance meeting with Hans Glaser (Derek Farr) ...
... a young radio repairman whose career has been frustrated by his refusal to follow the Nazis. When Glaser’s girlfriend Elly Schmidt (Joyce Howard – who later retired from acting, moved to Hollywood, and became an executive with Paramount TV) ...
... is denounced by a neighbour (Martita Hunt, who portrays the pure embodiment of evil) …
… raped, then arrested by an SS officer (Manning Whiley) ...
... before being sent to a ‘rest camp’, he decides it is time to tell the truth about the regime. The two men join forces to set up a pirate radio station which broadcasts the truth behind the Nazi prpaganda … all the time with the net closing in around them.
Although unseen apart from in stock footage and the inevitable framed images on every wall, Hitler hangs over the film like some ominous spectre that haunts all of their lives: Frau Roder is seduced by the success the Fuhrer can bring to her artistic career; her brother by glamour and activity. On the opposite side of the political lines, Elly and Hans are haunted by her rape whilst Dr Roder and his friends see Hitler as the force that has stripped away all of the morality that had nurtured their personal development. For them, there is no escape from Hitler and the forces that he has gathered around him. Despite their desires to simply get on with their lives, they are forced to fight back to see if they can pull back the shadow that hangs over them.
By bringing together the ordinary people of Germany (a dentist, a radio engineer, a music hall performer, a clergyman, waiters and old ladies) and identifying them as the enemies of Nazism and heroes in the struggle, the film has both an internationalist message and offers theses characters as the ‘everyman’ (and, course, ‘everywoman’). They are all capable of playing a role in trying to defeat the Nazis and, although the characters behind ‘Freedom Radio’ fail to prevent the outbreak of war, they stand to inspire those similarly ordinary people, from all around the world, whose steadfastness was needed to prevent a Nazi victory. Freedom Radio may not be the greatest war film ever made – nor even in the top 100 – but it’s a fascinating propaganda piece with an important, and genuine, message.
The cast also includes numerous familiar faces in small roles:
Currently available on DVD: