After a resistance fighter kills a bunch of Nazis, Hitler’s forces threaten to kill 100 hostages if the saboteur doesn’t come forward. Luckily for the hostages, a convicted murderer, Jean Picard (Errol Flynn, The Sea Hawk), volunteers to play the underground fighter, but does he really want to sacrifice himself for the greater good?
Reaction & Thoughts:
“Martyrs are fools who die because they want to.”
Uncertain Glory is the strangest WWII propaganda movie I’ve ever seen. I’m still trying to process it in my head. The film’s moral universe is peculiar, hazy, and yes, darn weird — days after watching the movie, I still don’t know what to make of it!
The film was directed by Raoul Walsh. He made half a dozen movies with star Errol Flynn. I’ve seen most of them and Uncertain Glory is definitely their most intriguing movie together. Flynn, whose health problems made him ineligible for military service, was eager to support the war effort through propaganda movies. The film could be interpreted as a reflection of the actor’s desire to help the allied forces.
Believe it or not, Uncertain Glory argues that if your life is deemed of little value, you must give it up for your country. Flynn’s character is a convicted murderer, so it is assumed that his life is less worthy than the 100 innocent villagers held by the Gestapo. Mind you, this is a movie that vehemently rejects the Nazis’ belief that lesser lives are expendable, yet the good guys in the movie seem to be agreeing with the Nazis’ “natural selection” — it’s hard to ignore the film’s moral inconsistencies.
What I find extraordinary about the story is that no one, absolutely no one in the film is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. The real saboteur has better things to do. The families of the hostages don’t want to sacrifice themselves either. It is decided that it must be the criminal, whose life is sh*t anyway!
It’s interesting to see matinée idol Flynn play an unapologetic criminal. He’s not one of those falsely accused movie criminals; Flynn is a thief and a killer, a decidedly unlikely “sacrificial lamb.” Flynn is excellent and there are other fine performances as well throughout the excellent cast. Paul Lukas (Watch on the Rhine) co-stars as the cop who captured Flynn. Lucile Watson (The Great Lie) is an influential townswoman and Jean Sullivan (Escape in the Desert) plays Flynn’s love interest.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
There are many things I like about the film — the acting, the atmospheric cinematography, the music score, etc. — but the film’s storyline is a real head-scratcher. Uncertain Glory is a curious movie to say the least. I don’t know, but I found the film’s moral universe interesting if problematic. Flynn’s fans will undoubtedly enjoy it more than regular viewers. More important, the film offers a unique look inside the state of mind of WWII audiences. B&W, 102 minutes, Not Rated.