Turned out by the ace director-writer combination of Jean Renoir and Dudley Nichols, This Land is a steadily engrossing film based on the inner drama of character rather than the exciting physical action of some war films. Its theme is the invincibility of ideas over brute force, and its story is of how circumstances and the realization of responsibility turn a craven weakling into a heroic champion of freedom. That is epic subject matter and it is given sincere, dignified and eloquent treatment.
Not that the picture is by any means perfect. Some of its incidents tax belief, and the presentation at times is ultra-obvious, possibly to clarify the meaning for the broadest possible audience. Similarly, although such scenes as Charles Laughton’s courtroom espousal of the cause of patriotism, civil disobedience and even of sabotage, or his defiant schoolroom reading of ‘The Rights of Man’, are suspiciously theatrical, the speeches themselves are magnificent.
As usual when a picture has such compulsion and distinction, the individual roles are rewarding and the performances impressive. As the blubbering coward who rises to heroism in a crisis, Charles Laughton gives a shrewdly conceived and developed portrayal, although he occasionally mugs a bit. Maureen O’Hara is believably intense as the lovely, tragic patriot school teacher. George Sanders proper projects the mental turmoil of the traitorous informer, while Walter Slezak turns in an acting gem in the rich role of the Nazi major.
1943: Best Sound Recording (Stephen Dunn)