This is a hard and sombre theme to digest. One which will become tedious to many because of its lack of animation. In telling of the young Frenchman whose conscience drives him to the home of the German boy he killed in the war, producer-director Ernst Lubitsch has made a rigid unravelling [of the French play by Maurice Rostand].
The picture is particularly noteworthy for a superb performance by Lionel Barrymore as the bereaved German father. Barrymore plays a doctor and the head of a small family, consisting of his wife and the departed son’s fiancee, who are almost fanatical in their grief over the lost boy a year after the Armistice. The gradual lightening of the burden comes through the Frenchman who, seeking peace of mind through confession to his victim’s parents, finds himself incapable of revealing the truth and then explains his presence by saying he was a friend of the son.
Meanwhile, there is the resentment of the men of the village to the presence of the Frenchman stirred up by a rejected suitor of the girl, and the gossiping of the women over the evident attachment between Elsa (Nancy Carroll) and Paul (Phillips Holmes). Lubitsch’s direction doesn’t permit this animosity to boil over into a demonstration although it does lead to the film’s dramatic high point when Barrymore rises from a luncheon table to flay his cronies for a venomous attitude which can only lead to further wars.
Holmes, wearing a mustache to add the years to his appearance, is not a happy choice for the mentally tortured soldier. Yet, his performance is not without its good points.
Carroll, as the girl who is devoting her life to the parents and memory of her fiancee, handles herself capably in a role of little opportunity.