Thursday, May 20, 2010

Conspiracy of Hearts

One of the stranger films in my collection is the 50 year old 'Conspiracy of Hearts', a second world war drama set at the time when the Italians surrendered but the German Army briefly took over control in Italy before the Allies overcame them. It is set in a holding camp for Jewish children, still run by Italian soldiers, although following Nazi orders. The Italian major, played by Ronald Lewis, with a fine upper class English accent, turns a blind eye to the activities of a convent of nuns, led by Lilli Palmer, who are smuggling about 10 children a night out of the camp and away to the Partisans. Sylvia Sims (fresh from Ice Cold in Alex) is a willowy blonde novice and Yvonne Fletcher plays a German nun who thinks that it is not their place to break the law. Michael Goodliffe, one of those actors whose face you know but can't quite place (he was the second Hunter in 'Callan'), played the local priest. Look out also for Jenny Laird from 'Black Narcissus'.

Things get more complicated when the Germans take over the camp. Acually there were only two, Colonel Erich Horsten played by Albert Lieven (the German actor, on stage from 1928, who fled the Nazis during the war years, only to portray Nazi menacers in British films; he was the grandfather of England rugby player, Toby Flood) and Lt Schmidt (Peter Arne). The Colonel follows orders (even though he thinks they are crass) and the Lieutenant follows orders because he is a Nazi.

Of course, the nuns are caught and nice little moral dilemmas are set up.

Most of the actors are now dead. Lewis and Goodliffe committed suicide and Arne was murdered. Fletcher died young from Breast Cancer. Lilli Palmer was famously married to Rex Harrison. Only Sylvia Sims survives and is still working, though no longer slim and beautiful - quite the reverse on both counts.

The producer/director team of Betty Box and Ralph Thomas abandoned serious themes thereafter and concentrated on the 'Doctor' comedies and the early 'Carry on...' farces. Thomas directed Dirk Bogarde 9 times and James Robertson Justice 13 times.

One of the writers was Adrian Scott, a member of the Hollywood Ten.

The film was nominated for a Golden Globe as the film most likely to promote international relations (though not with the Germans, I think).

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