Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 15, 2022)
1930’s World War I-based All Quiet On the Western Front remains director Lewis Milestone’s most famous film, and it acted as a strong anti-war effort. 1943’s Edge of Darkness finds Milestone with World War II as his subject matter, but he leaves his prior pacifism on the shelf for this one.
1n 1940, the German army occupies the small Norwegian fishing village of Trollness. Two years later, it remains a base for 150 Nazi soldiers.
Since the Germans came, the locals used minor forms of sabotage and transgression to snipe against their occupiers, but as time passes, they decide to pursue broader action. Led by fisherman Gunnar Brogge (Errol Flynn), the Norwegians decide to take up arms against their oppressors.
I find WWII movies made during the conflict to offer an intriguing subgenre. Given the nature of that event, most didn’t even pretend to address the subject matter in an objective manner, so they could veer into the realm of propaganda.
Those that don’t go that way still come with a clear POV, and Edge falls into that category. While I don’t think I’d classify it as true propaganda, it clearly displays an attitude intended to stir pro-war sympathies.
Which I can’t regard as a bad thing – again, due to the circumstances of WWII. While most wars exist for questionable reasons, that doesn’t prove accurate for WWII, which offered as close to a true fight between good and evil as we can find.
Of course, that simplifies matters, as the presence of the Soviet Union on the Allied side ensures some real moral ambiguity. Nonetheless, the battle against the Axis powers – and especially Nazi Germany – led to a war with greater “noble purpose” than usual.
It becomes especially interesting to contrast Edge to Milestone’s Western Front, given the differing attitudes of the time. WWI led to much bitterness and dissatisfaction with the human cost of that conflict in the face of little purpose, whereas WWII enjoyed greater – in not universal – popular support.
Due to his work on Western Front, Milestone feels like an odd choice for the rah-rah Edge, and he seems less effective here. Whereas the Milestone of Western Front managed to give us a tale with nuance and thematic depth, Edge offers a more straightforward and less subtle piece.
Again, I get the reason for this, as no one really involved wanted anything even vaguely anti-war in 1943. A potentially inspirational story like this made sense in that period.
Nearly 80 years later, however, Edge seems less compelling. While interesting as an artifact of its era, the end result doesn’t give us an especially dynamic experience.
Much of the problem stems from the development of the narrative, as it feels oddly unconcerned with the occupation and rebellion at its core. Instead, Edge often veers toward romantic melodrama.
I get that if you cast Errol Flynn as a lead, you probably want to use him as a love interest, and some of that seems fine for Edge. However, too much of the film rambles along these interpersonal paths and the main story can feel lost.
Other issues with tone impact Edge as well. The movie ricochets from drama to comedy with alacrity – and without a lot of logic. Too much of the film can play as strangely whimsical.
I do like the basic plot of Edge, and it occasionally rouses to life. Parts of the film manage to wring tension and passion out of the main story, especially as we get to the climax.
Edge also comes with a more than capable cast, as in addition to Flynn, we find “names” like Ann Sheridan, Ruth Gordon, Walter Huston and Judith Anderson. Flynn feels a bit flat as our lead, but the others manage more than competent performances.
Ultimately, unfortunately, Edge just leaves me a bit cold. The film feels too long and too unfocused to deliver the dynamic drama it promises.