A silent nine-year-old Czech boy, a survivor of Auschwitz, flees a refugee center in postwar Germany and is found by an American G.I. At the same time, the boy's mother, the sole surviving member of his family, searches refugee centers for her son. Time, distance, and the massive numbers of refugee children are factors hampering the reunion of mother and son.
Montgomery Clift ... Ralph 'Steve' Stevenson
Aline MacMahon ... Mrs. Murray
Jarmila Novotna ... Mrs. Hannah Malik
Wendell Corey ... Jerry Fisher
Ivan Jandl ... Karel 'Jimmy' Malik
Mary Patton ... Mrs. Fisher
Ewart G. Morrison ... Mr. Crookes
William Rogers ... Tom Fisher
Leopold Borkowski ... Joel Markowsky
Claude Gambier ... Raoul Dubois
This film marked the feature film screen debut of Montgomery Clift. It was not meant to be that way. Red River was made first, but held up in release due to a threatened lawsuit. So The Search ended up being the movie going public's first glimpse of Montgomery Clift.
They didn't get to see him until the film was only just about half way finished. The only character who is continuously on screen through out the film is little Ivan Jandl. What a performance too. The worst thing that could have happened to this film is to have some name Hollywood kid actor play that role. Young Ivan comes across as a real kid who went through horrors unimaginable in first world countries today.
Ivan is Czech and his family are singled out by the Nazis and put in Auschwitz. Father and sister are killed, mother and son are separated. The film is their search for each other.
Ivan after V-E Day is in another kind of camp, a refugee camp run by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency. He's almost comatose from the shock of four years of horror. To him the men in uniforms are still to be feared even though it's not Nazi uniforms. He makes a break for it and GI Montgomery Clift picks him up and takes him back to his dwelling.
Ivan and Monty kind of grow on each other, but at the same time Ivan's mother played by Czech opera star Jarmila Novotna is pursuing her quest for her little boy. She comes to the UNRRA camp which is headed by Aline McMahon. This may very well be her best screen moment. McMahon also narrates large chunks of the film, describing the enormous task the UNRRA had in reuniting families all over Europe in addition to a whole lot of other things like food, clothing, and shelter.
Clift and Ivan have great chemistry. And no one ever portrayed sensitivity better than Montgomery Clift on the screen. You know how much empathizes with Ivan's plight with every look, every nuance, every gesture. Fred Zinneman got a great performance out of him and later on Zinneman directed Clift in his greatest film role in From Here to Eternity.
The film was shot in postwar Germany and the landscape itself and the looks of the people tell what they've been through. I wouldn't be surprised but that Clift's performance in The Search later on led him to being cast in The Big Lift, another film set in post World War II Germany.
Probably it was just as well Clift got his first exposure in this film. It guaranteed him co-star status with John Wayne when Red River finally did come out.
The Search 56 years later is a moving movie experience.
Aside from some dated music and ponderous narration, this is a nearly perfect film. It's surprising, then, that people rarely talk about this being among Montgoery Clift's best work. I, for one, prefer this over From Here to Eternity, Raintree County or even The Heiress. This is because I rarely have encountered a movie that has so pulled me in emotionally to the story. I'm a guy and I don't just start bawling at everything, but I defy ANY person to watch this film with a dry eye! It just doesn't seem possible.
The story is less about G.I. Clift than about a sad but adorable little boy he encounters wandering around in post-war Germany. At first, the boy is wild and doesn't trust anyone, as he and his family had been through the holocaust. Somehow in the concentration camp, he and his mother had become separated and at the end of the war, he had run away from the allied resettlement program because he had a natural fear of ALL soldiers. Despite these tragedies, the boy did not give up hope of one day finding his mother, though Clift plans on taking him back to the States because he knows it is hopeless to go on searching.
You've GOT to see this film! You've GOT to show it to your kids! Although the Diary of Ann Frank and Shindler's List have received a lot of attention, this little film is every bit as poignant and important for understanding the real impact of World War II.
THE SEARCH (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1948), directed by Fred Zinnemann, as mentioned after the opening credits, was produced in Switzerland and in the United States occupied zone of Germany through the permission of the United States Army and through the cooperation of the I.R.O. It was the first postwar movie to be filmed in an occupied zone. Looking at the background of destroyed buildings and broken streets, it's just a crucial reminder of the suffering amongst those European families and how horrible a war can be. Currently shown on Turner Classic Movies and once available on video, it's become one of the most requested from viewers, and rightfully so. Running at 105 minutes, there isn't a single frame wasted in the story, no scenes are unnecessary.
The plot in brief: Set in post World War II, a war orphan (Ivan Jandl, in his only movie role) is sheltered by an American G.I. (Montgomery Clift), while all that time, his mother (Jarmila Novotna), who has survived the hardship of the concentration camp, searches for him, knowing in her heart, that he is very much alive. And when the G.I. decides he wants to take the boy he calls "Jim" back with him to America, suspense builds for the viewers knowing that the mother is not that far away, and how they nearly miss each other in a couple of scenes. Aside from this being Clift's first movie to be released and his second film role, and that Ivan Jandl as Karel will steal one's heart, especially with his sad face, Aline MacMahon (1899-1991), as Deborah H. Murray, superintendent of the orphanage for war orphans, as well as the off screen narrator, gives possibly the best dramatic performance of her career, so sincere and natural, especially her devotion to those other children, one forgets that she's just an actress playing a role. Even her somewhat sad face adds to her personality and character. I only wished she had won, or at least been nominated, for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for this performance. She deserved it. Clift, whose gun chewing soldier character comes about 45 minutes into the movie, also gives a sincere performance, and was nominated for Best Actor. Wendall Corey appears in support as Clift's Army buddy, Jerry Fisher.
I rank THE SEARCH one of director Zimmermann's most admired films, and one I never get tired of seeing whenever it's shown. Thank goodness TCM avoids showing the colorized version of THE SEARCH. Be sure to have your tissue box handy.