Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Search

We watched a movie on Turner Classic Movies last night called The Search. The movie starred Montgomery Clift as Steve, an American soldier post WWII. A little boy named Ivan Jandl played Karel Malik, a Czechoslovakian child separated from his family during the war and imprisoned at Auschwitz. Jandl is the true star of this film.

Karel is rounded up with other kids and taken to an orphanage or camp created by the Americans to help the children. He has amnesia and cannot remember his name or any information about his life or his family. When questioned, he will only answer, "I don't know," in the Czech tongue.

The depiction of the traumatic reactions of the children (most of whom do not speak English) to the no-nonsense military personnel and environment is moving. They find it difficult to trust the soldiers, who seem a lot like the German army to them. They are afraid of military transport and red cross ambulances because they were often used to take people away to concentration camps and gas chambers.

During one poignant scene, the children in an ambulance smell the exhaust from the vehicle and come to believe that they are being gassed. They break out of the ambulance and run away. Karel and another boy are not caught. The other boy drowns, and Karel is believed to have drowned as well. Only his knit hat is found.

Karel's mother has survived the war, though his father and sister have been killed. She begins a search for him on foot. Meanwhile, Karel is taken in by Steve (Clift), who dubs him,"Jim," because he cannot remember his name. Steve teaches Jim English and begins a search for his family. He is told that Karel's family must be dead, so he begins making arrangements to take him back to the US.

Jim gradually remembers some details about his mother and his traumatic separation from her. He runs away to search for her, but he is found by Steve and told that she is dead. Meanwhile, Karel's mother is told by the Americans that he is dead, and given the hat found in the river as proof. Both search for the strength to go on in the belief that they have lost everything, and they begin to heal.

The film's title becomes a recurring theme throughout this beautifully wrought movie, with searches both corporeal and spiritual depicted dramatically and effectively by all of the characters. Ivan Jandl's performance is especially remarkable. At only 11 years of age, he was already an accomplished actor. He won a junior Oscar for this performance in 1948.

This film was banned in Communist countries for 40 years. According to IMDB (as well as various other sites):

Ivan Jandl's performance in the movie The Search (1948) gave so much hope to the people of Czechoslovakia that the Russian Govt. took him out of school and put him to work in a rock quarry. He was forced to work there for a long time and never full recovered from the strains put on him at the time. He lived the rest of his life in a sickly state, and died relatively young.

Ivan Jandl died in 1987 at age 50. His life is a testament to the atrocities of repressive governments.


MissMagnoliaThunderpussy said...

Darling, I've heard of this film for years but I have to say, I've always avoided it but not for the subject matter, except for "The Heiress", "A Place in the Sun" and a very few others, I've never been a fan of Montgomery Clift. I will add it to my list, on your recomendation. I've always try to see anything Holocost related for two reasons, one, to forget what happened would be almost as big a tragedy as what happened and second, my late father was in the camps and lost the bulk of his family to Hitler's "Final Solution", I grew up hearing all the history and the stories of the horrors. I appreaciate your recomendation and I will get around to this soon.

Merci said...

Miss Magnolia-
I'm not a Montgomery Clift fan myself. He doesn't appear right away in the film, and it was the child who engaged me and held my attention.

You are absolutely right - we must continue to tell the story. It is our only hope of keeping history from repeating itself.

I am amazed by how the survivors of the camps were able go on to have such good, often joyful, lives. I fear that I would not have had that courage. Bless you and your family.

PaxRomano said...


I am truly shocked to hear this story about your father ... I have no words; nothing.

Virginia Gal said...

Gosh what a sad story - what happens at the end of the movie? Even more tragic is what the goverment does to the little boy in the film, breaks my heart.

Ms. Thunderpussy - I think you are right, we should never forget, it is the least we can do for the victims of that tragedy, like your poor father. (moment of silence).

Merci said...

SPOILER ALERT for anyone who might watch this movie.....

The little boy and his mother are reunited at the end of the film. Even if you know the plot of the whole movie, it's still worth watching it just to see this child act.

Anonymous said...

I first saw this movie on television in the mid-1950s and it has stayed with me all the years since - it's a most moving account of real life events that I was just a bit too young to understand or even know about at the time of the filming (1948). Its a true masterpiece that I hope to see on DVD someday.

Merci said...

Welcome! Thanks for stopping by.

This movie will stay with me, too. I would love to find it on DVD one day.

George Mensik said...

Dear Friends,
see our official Ivan Jandl pages:
Many Thanks, George Mensik, Czech Republic