Cast and Crew: Hal B. Wallis (Producer), Jack Warner (Executive Producer); Max Steiner (Score); James Wong Howe (Cinematography) Hans Conried, Eduardo Ciannelli, Jay Silverheels
What It’s About: A French freighter rushing nickel ore back to France in the early days of the Second World War picks up five men floating in a raft. The men claim to be French prospectors who want to come back to fight for France, but everyone suspects they are actually convicts that have escaped from a prison camp in French Guiana. Major Duval (Sydney Greenstreet) does not trust the men, but Captain Freycinet (Claude Rains) is sympathetic and gets the men to tell them their stories. When news of the fall of France reaches the ship, Major Duval orders that the ship continue to Marsielle and Vichy France while Ferycinet conspires to bring it to England to join the Free French forces.
Why Watch it Today?: Paris was liberated today in 1944. Passage to Marseille is an intriguing (if imperfect) propaganda film from Casablanca director Michael Curtiz, sharing with it cast members Greenstreet and Rains along with Humphrey Bogart (playing Jean Matrac, the leader of the convicts and an outspoken newspaperman framed by pro-Fascist forces within France before the war) and Peter Lorre (an amoral safecracker). Outside of the French ex-pat actors who round out the cast, the actors are not terribly good at playing French soldiers and convicts and the structure is unwieldily (the height of which is Ferycinet telling a war correspondent of when one of the prisoners told him the story of Bogart’s pre-imprisionment time in France, a flashback within a flashback within a flashback. Even with these problems, it’s an intriguing film at times, especially during the prison sequence, which features Noir style lighting. The interplay between Greenstreet and Rains is also particularly enjoyable.