As a fairly staunch admirer of director John Cromwell—especially his breakthrough early talkies like The Mighty (1929) and Street of Chance (1930)—I was surprised to be confronted with a 1941 Cromwell picture that was entirely new to me. After seeing So Ends Our Night, I’m less surprised. It’s not that it’s a bad film—on the contrary, it’s a good one, if not exactly a barrel of laughs—but rather that it has a slightly threadbare quality indicative of an independent production of the era. (Cunning production design by the great William Cameron Menzies disguises much, but not all of the apparently underwhelming budget.) Worse, it’s one of those unfortunate films that seems to have fallen into the public domain, meaning that the source print is of somewhat variable quality.
Even so, this is a worthy film—one of those early anti-Nazi films that predate U.S. involvement in the war. Based on the unappetizingly titled Erich Maria Remarque novel Flotsam (no wonder they changed it), it chronicles the tribulations of refugees from the Third Reich—specifically Josef Steiner (Fredric March), Ruth Holland (Margaret Sullavan), Ludwig Kern (Glenn Ford)—who have the misfortune to be without appropriate papers, making them illegal aliens wherever they happen to land. Though containing a number of lighter scenes and blessed with a strong sense of humanity (a Cromwell trademark), the film pulls no punches and is all the stronger for it.