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THE EVE OF ST. MARK, 1944
Starring: Anne Baxter, William Eythe, Michael O’Shay and Vincent Price
Private Quizz West (William Eythe) is doing his one year national service just prior to the attack on Pearl Harbour. Unfortunately he has just met his dream girl and has begun making plans to settle down with her.
Many reviews have called this film just another run of the mill war film. But looking back at this 1944 film about army life just prior to the second world war actually becoming a world war, I have to disagree. Only after three fifths of the film has passed does the actual attack on Pearl Harbour occur, which gives us time to really get to know the characters and to actually feel connected to them. When the attack does happen we aren’t shown it we only hear of it through radio broadcasts for several minutes before we even see any fighting action.
Comparing this film to war films some 50 years later and today the film is vastly different not only in its portrayal of war but also of the private lives of soldiers during the war. Early on in the film Private West’s new girlfriend, Janet Feller (Anne Baxter), is embarrassed when West tells his parents of his first meeting her, he doesn’t understand why and his mother explains that maybe she felt that the story makes it seem like he was coming on to her. Can you imagine? Someone coming on to someone, scandalous!
‘The Eve of St. Mark’ is a star studded cast with an amazing variety of accents. Although Vincent Prices is the least convincing. Apart from Vincent Price the majority of the cast have sadly fallen into anonymity. Harry Morgan, the Colonel from M*A*S*H also stars in this film as a private who when the island in the Philippians is attacked and the platoon has a choice of leaving or fighting on, he wants to leave, at first anyway.
On St. Mark's Eve it was the custom in Europe during the 17th through to the 19th for people to stand inside a church doorway from 11pm until 1am. As explained by Private Francis Marion (Vincent Price) the cave in which the platoon are holding out counts as a church and their Filipina nurse counts as a maiden watching out for the dead.
Time has withered this film so any comments about the technical side of it are always going to be grim. The lighting is off occasionally and there are times where the backing music seems to be drawn out as in elongated and distorted, plus the usual pop sounds in the dialogue that accompany any of the pre-1950’s films. For me at least this doesn’t distract from the film at all. The acting is generally great and supersedes all of the technical flaws that have only occurred due to the films age.
William Eythe and Anne Baxter’s chemistry is electric. You really feel for her, when whilst reading a letter she has just received about her boyfriend being sent off to the Philippians she hears on the radio that Pearl Harbour has just been attacked. This is followed by a montage of other family members hearing the latest news on the radio. Their shock and confusion makes us feel the way all Americans must have felt in December of 1941.
John M. Stahl was coming close to the end of his career at this point. But this film contains all the elements that made him such a great classic Director. This isn’t a film purely about war. It’s about people, about a young couple just trying to have a relationship. Private West is pure down to earth type who even refuses the advances of another young lady even though his girlfriend is a million miles away.
‘The Eve of St. Mark’s is classic, though time has not done it justice in its day it must have been a blockbuster and I can see no reason that it should be classified as ‘just another war film.’ As I said before the majority of this film doesn’t even contain much action, considering that it was made and screened in the last year of the war I think the temptation to turn it into a propaganda film against the axis would have been great. But Stahl chose to make it about an ordinary couple in extraordinary times.
I suggest viewing this film as more of a historical document than an action/romantic war movie. It is fascinating to see how people interacted in the 1940’s and to consider how much things have changed in the past 65 years.
THE EVE OF ST. MARK