Classic Movie Blog - The Search

moving story of an orphan boy in WWII Europe

Classic Movie Blog - The Search
Directed by Fred Zinnemann and starring Montgomery Clift (Source: The original lobby card MGM)


I am obsessed with movies. There are so many movies and so little time. I keep a movie viewing wish list. I have so many movies on the list, I finally had to break the lists down into decades: 1920’s, 1930’s, 1940’s etc.

A movie that has been on that list for decades is The Search (1948) starring Montgomery Clift and directed by the great, Fred Zinnemann-two time Oscar winner. This was Clift’s first feature film and it made him a star and earned him an Oscar nomination. Screenwriters Richard Schweizer and David Weschler won an Oscar for their great work here, and Ivan Jandl a Czech child actor was only eleven when he won a special juvenile acting Oscar for playing the lost boy, Karel. The kid is fantastic.

Karel is one of thousands of lost children, orphans of the war and holocaust. Terrified and unable to trust any adult, he runs away from a facility where he would actually be safe, and cared for while living relatives are searched for. Shoe-less, hungry, and hiding out in the rubble of ruined buildings, one day the hungry lad greedily eyes an American soldier’s (Ralph Stevenson-played by Clift) sandwich as Stevenson eats lunch in his jeep. Stevenson eventually gains Karel’s trust (it isn’t easy) and teaches him English. The two bond and when all hope of finding any of Karel’s family fails, Stevenson wants to take Karel back to America with him, to adopt. But as his buddy and confident Jerry (Wendell Corey) tells him; this feat will be virtually impossible with endless red tape and international law and regulations.

Meanwhile, Karel’s mother Hanna (played by Austrian actress, Jarmila Novotna) has survived the concentration camp and she is searching everyone for her son. When she is told that he died in a drowning accident, she refuses to believe it, even as she admits she is feeling hopeless. No family of her own, and no purpose, Hanna stays at the children’s center where she came to look for Karel to guide and teach the poor orphaned children.

The Search is a beautiful story, simply told. At a time when Hollywood relied on artifice and make-believe this film shines with authenticity. Shot on location in Europe and using all European actors for the European characters, the realism is enhanced by Clift’s naturalistic and method approach to acting. Although certainly considered a giant in his field, Zinnemann was a very self-effacing director whose style was almost documentarian. But he was great with actors, directing 19 actors and accesses to Oscar nominations. He also knew when to end a story and often the last shot of his film isn’t that memorable, but he understood when the story was over. Directors like Tarantino could learn a lot from watching his films.

Stream it on Amazon Prime for $2.99

Copyright 2020 WWNY. All rights reserved.