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Jean Renoir's 1943 film has its passionate defenders; the unfortunate thing, though, is that it needs them. Made during Renoir's wartime exile in Hollywood, it's a frankly propagandistic picture about a French schoolteacher (Charles Laughton) who must painfully overcome his innate cowardice and stand up to the occupying Nazis. The screenplay, by Dudley Nichols, is pure jingo, but Renoir's work with Laughton creates an unusually human portrait of heroism. The curtain speech has a power beyond its somewhat threadbare phraseology: the actor and his director function in perfect single-take rapport, forcing a unity of time and tone on the language that grants it a new level of integrity.

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