In July of 1944, MGM released The Seventh Cross, a film that departs from the period’s war movies in ways that make it one of the more penetrating and stirring made at that time. Set in Germany in 1936, this unusual film has a compassionate message about innate human decency in an indecent world, an especially surprising theme because all of the film’s characters are German and because the war in Europe still hadn’t been won when it came out. Using ordinary German citizens as heroes yields a complexity of content just about unheard of in 1944. The film reminded audiences that there were good Germans living among the Nazis. The Seventh Cross doesn’t stint on Nazi horrors, but its main goal wasn’t to inflame audiences on that score. The movie’s uplifting message, about the cumulative power of many small acts of goodness, may sound simplistic and sentimental, but The Seventh Cross is far more restrained than the typical war picture of those years. While many of those movies became instantly disposable with the war’s end, the strength of the humanistic content in this film did not expire with Hitler’s demise.
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