It seems strange that, as 2016 is drawing to a close, we find a political landscape where Communists, Anarchists, and Nazis are all back in vogue; and seeking out new ways to overthrow Democracy. The same groups were running wild in 1941 and then---as now---many Americans were content not to see the threat such extremists posed. There are times when we need a reminder of what America is; and what it is not.
Five days before Pearl Harbor was attacked---December 2nd, 1941---our recommended weekend feature, All Through the Night was released and was scoring box-office successes which soared after America entered WW2. The film was produced by Warner Brothers and featured a rich cast of current and future Hollywood stars. Humphrey Bogart and Kaaren Verne played the lead roles.
All Through the Night is one of those types of films that portray America before it had to be made great again. The story is set in a community in Brooklyn---heavily populated with first and second generation Americans. Bogart plays 'Gloves' Donahue; a man-about-town and professional gambler who's devoted to his mother, who still lives in the 'Old Neighborhood.' Donahue specially orders his favorite cheesecake for breakfast at the local diner every morning from a German baker who's his mother's neighbor. The delivery is missed one day; Donahue and his men investigate and find the baker has been murdered.
The police try to blame Donahue for the murder, but he escapes to look for the real killer. His only lead is a German girl named Leda (played by Kaaren Verne) who sings at a local nightclub run by the sinister Pepe (played by Peter Lorre). Donahue falls in love with Leda and discovers that she and the deceased baker were being blackmailed by the Gestapo to assist in their crimes. And so the fun starts with Donahue and his gang taking on the Nazi spies and saboteurs who are planning a major attack on a Naval Base.
The evident message of this film is just as relevant today as it was on the eve of WW2. It is a warning against complacency in a free society and a reminder that Americanism is an ideology independent of one's race or gender. The Americans are portrayed in this film as light-hearted and fun-loving contrasted with the ruthless determination of the Nazis. It is of interest to note that all four actors who played Donahue's gang later went on to star in television comedies (William Demerest, Jackie Gleason, Frank McHugh, and Phil Silvers). The Nazis were portrayed by German-American actors later mostly noted for playing in WW2 dramas (Conrad Veidt, Peter Lorre, Martin Kosleck, and Hans Schumm). In one of the memorable scenes from All Through the Night, Donahue enlists a reluctant rival gang for a battle with the Nazis, saying:
"Listen all of you, I got a firsthand report on what it's like on the other side, from that Lena babe. I'm telling you, we've all got to watch our steps. That gang is strictly no good from way down deep. They're no bunch of petty racketeers trying to muscle in on some small turf---they want to move in wholesale, take over the whole country...and they aren't going to stay out of your way. They'll tell you what time you get out of bed in the morning and when to go to sleep at night. They'll tell you what to eat, what kind of clothes you can wear, and what to drink. They'll even tell you what morning newspaper you can read."
Which sums things up nicely. However flawed our system may be, there are those no good from way down deep who crave power more than they love liberty. There are fanatics of many political and religious stripes who prefer death in the cause of enslaving others than life under freedom. All Through the Night actually has some very modern elements depicting this point; including terrorist cells and an attempted suicide bombing.
Complacency is a huge part of the reason we have seen so much extremism in our modern culture. Fanatics thrive in societies where there is no popular resistance and the Elites are generally corrupt. The secondary message of All Through the Night; that the ideal is what unites us, is a strong preventative against the fanatic, who is all to eager to substitute race, gender, religion, or political ideology for the ideal.
All Through the Night is currently available for free viewing on Youtube and also on DVD. As an interesting side note, Peter Lorre, who played a Gestapo operative, and Kaaren Verne, who played the immigrant heroine, met and later married through their shared work on this film.