AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
Name Occurs Before Title Offscreen Credit Print Viewed By AFI
The Moon Is Down
Alternate Title: John Steinbeck's The Moon Is Down
Director: Irving Pichel (Dir)
Release Date:   9 Apr 1943
Premiere Information:   World Premiere in Toronto: 13 Mar 1943; New York opening: 26 Mar 1943
Production Date:   18 Nov--late Dec 1942; addl shooting 14 Jan 1943
Duration (in mins):   90
Duration (in feet):   8,100
Duration (in reels):   10
Print this page
Display Movie Summary

Cast:   Sir Cedric Hardwicke (Col. Lanser)  
    Henry Travers (Mayor Orden)  
    Lee J. Cobb (Dr. Albert Winter)  
    Dorris Bowdon (Molly Morden)  
    Margaret Wycherly (Sarah Orden)  
    Peter Van Eyck (Lt. Tonder)  
    William Post Jr. (Alex Morden)  
    Henry Rowland (Capt. Loft)  
    E. J. Ballantine (George Corell)  
    Hans Schumm (Capt. Bentick)  
    Ernest Dorian (Maj. Hunter)  
    John Banner (Lt. Prackle)  
    Helene Thimig (Annie)  
    Ian Wolfe (Joseph)  
    Jeff Corey (Albert)  
    Charles McGraw (Ole)  
    Trevor Bardette (Foreman)  
    John Mylong (Staff officer)  
    Irving Pichel (Peder)  
    Violette Wilson (Peder's wife)  
    Kurt Kreuger (Orderly)  
    Louis Arco (Schumann)  
    Otto Reichow (Sergeant)  
    Sven-Hugo Borg (Sergeant)  
    Frederick Giermann (Sergeant)  
    Charles Mason (Sergeant)  
    Dorothy Peterson (Mother)  
    Sam Waagenaar (Soldier)  
    Peter Michael (Hostage)  
    John Bleifer (Hostage)  
    Harry Cording (Hostage)  
    Lester Sharpe (Hostage)  
    Henry Guttman (Guard)  
    Monica Folts (Girl)  
    Paul Weigel (Elderly man)  
    Ludwig Hardt (Elderly man)  
    Jerry Baker (Boy)  
    Tom Brown (Boy)  
    Leon Tyler (Boy)  
    Frederick Brunn (German soldier)  
    Albert D'Arno (German soldier)  
    Guy Kingsford (Pilot)  
    Patrick O'Moore (Bombardier)  
    Louis Donath (Hitler's voice)  
    Ernst Hausman (Meeller)  
    Gertrude Hoffmann    
    Connie Leon    
    Edith Evanson    
    Georgia Backus    
    Ruth Robinson    
    Netta Packer    
    Richard Abbott    
    Walter White    
    Joe Eggenton    

Summary: George Corell, a general store owner in a small Norwegian mining village, has secretly arranged for the German Army to invade and occupy the town. On the appointed day, Corell sends the town's inhabitants and tiny militia on a picnic, and the German forces, led by Col. Lanser, quickly move in. Six of the militiamen are killed by machine gun fire as they try to repel the enemy, and the stunned townspeople surrender. Lanser interviews Mayor Orden and his wife Sarah, and the town's historian and doctor, Albert Winter, who are outraged to learn of Corell's treachery. Lanser explains that Germany needs the town's iron and warns Orden that the village will be destroyed if the miners do not work hard. The doctor tells Lanser that the Norwegians still have peacetime values, and that it will take time to learn to relinquish their free will. Soon after, Corell visits Lanser, who despises the traitor as much as Orden does. Although Corell has been injured by a thrown rock, he refuses to believe that the townspeople have turned against him. Lanser advises Corell that he would be safer living elsewhere, but Corell insists on staying until he receives orders from Berlin. Lanser, who was a member of the forces invading Belgium and France during World War I, is worried that the villagers will rebel against their oppressors, and his fears are realized when mine worker Alex Morden kills the taunting Capt. Bentick. Alex is put on trial, and his wife Molly begs Orden to spare his life. Orden promises Molly that no Norwegian will sentence Alex to death, but despite Orden's request for leniency, the colonel orders a firing squad to shoot Alex. The squad's leader, young lieutenant Tonder, grows unhappy as the months pass and the occupying forces are treated with increasing hostility. The townspeople also attempt more daring acts of sabotage, even trying to alert the RAF to the mine's location so that it can be bombed. Lanser reluctantly retaliates by arresting and killing villagers at random, even though he knows that each death will make the saboteurs more determined. On the verge of a nervous breakdown, and unaware that Molly is the wife of the man he helped to execute, Tonder visits the young widow and confesses his love for her. Although the equally lonely Molly is tempted to accept his friendship, she remembers Alex and stabs Tonder to death with a pair of scissors. After Molly escapes to Sweden, English planes drop packets of dynamite with instructions on how the Norwegians can best resist the German infiltration. As explosions damaging German operations begin, Corell again visits Lanser and informs him that he has received orders from Berlin to hold Orden and Winter as hostages and execute them if the sabotage continues. Lanser protests, asserting that the executions will fuel stronger resistance, but finally has the mayor and doctor arrested. Orden bravely bids farewell to Sarah and their feisty cook Annie, then discusses the situation with Winter and Lanser. Drawing strength from Socrates' denunciation of his assassins, Orden tells Lanser that a mayor "isn't a man, it's an idea," and that his people will continue to fight for freedom. Lanser then receives word that an important warehouse has been dynamited, and Orden, Winter and the other hostages march with dignity to the gallows. As the men are hanged, the villagers sing of their love for their country, and their song is accompanied by the sound of more explosions. 

Production Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Distribution Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Director: Irving Pichel (Dir)
  Tom Dudley (Asst dir)
Producer: William Goetz (Exec prod)
  Nunnally Johnson (Prod)
Writer: Nunnally Johnson (Wrt for the scr by)
Photography: Arthur Miller (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: James Basevi (Art dir)
  Maurice Ransford (Art dir)
Film Editor: Louis Loeffler (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Thomas Little (Set dec)
  Walter M. Scott (Set dec)
Costumes: N'Was McKenzie (Cost)
Music: Alfred Newman (Mus)
Sound: Eugene Grossman (Sd)
  Roger Heman (Sd)
Special Effects: Fred Sersen (Spec photog eff)
Make Up: Guy Pearce (Makeup artist)
Production Misc: H. M. Waller (Tech adv)
  Sonja Henie (Tech adv)
  Bernard Carr (Unit mgr)
Country: United States

Music: "We're Sailing Against England," composer undetermined.
Songs: "Yes, We Love This Country," music by Rikard Nordraak, lyrics by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson.
Composer: Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson
  Rikard Nordraak
Source Text: Based on the novel The Moon Is Down by John Steinbeck (New York, 1942) and his play of the same name (New York, 7 Apr 1942).
Authors: John Steinbeck

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. 26/2/1943 dd/mm/yyyy LP12417

PCA NO: 8996
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Recording

Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: World War II
Subjects (Major): Executions
  Military occupation
  World War II
  World War II--Resistance movements
Subjects (Minor): Cooks
  Firing squads
  Iron mines
  National songs

Note: The film's title card reads, "Twentieth Century-Fox presents John Steinbeck's The Moon Is Down ." Before the title card appears, a map of Norway is seen with a fist pounding on it, and a voice shouts in German that Norway must be conquered. The voice continues as the onscreen credits are shown. Nunnally Johnson's onscreen credit is "Produced and Written for the Screen by." Steinbeck's novel, which was his first since the 1939 publication of The Grapes of Wrath , and play were the targets of much criticism. Numerous reviewers considered the German characters too sympathetic, and complained that Steinbeck had oversimplified the complex issues involved in a resistance movement. Steinbeck maintained that his characters were more realistic due to their intelligence and humanity, and a number of modern sources report that The Moon Is Down was a highly esteemed piece of propaganda for many European resistance groups during the war.
       A 22 Apr 1942 HR news item announced that in addition to Twentieth Century-Fox, M-G-M, Paramount, Warner Bros., Samuel Goldwyn and Hunt Stromberg were "in the market" for the rights to Steinbeck's book and play, and the 29 Apr 1942 HR news item disclosing the sale to Twentieth Century-Fox noted that "the play went to 20th at Steinbeck's request because of his satisfaction with Darryl Zanuck's film version of his Grapes of Wrath ." The news item also noted that the $300,000 paid to Steinbeck was "a record for outright purchase" of a novel, and that Zanuck intended to produce the film personally. When Zanuck entered the military shortly afterward, however, screenwriter Nunnally Johnson was designated the film's producer. One of the changes made by Johnson in dramatizing Steinbeck's book and play was naming the invaded country as Norway and the invaders as Germans. In Steinbeck's works, the nationalities of the characters are not specified.
       Contemporary sources reveal that a number of actors were tested for the role of "Col. Lanser." A 31 Jul 1942 HR news item noted that George Sanders was "scheduled" to play the part, although he had just been placed on suspension by the studio for refusing a role in another film. According to a 20 Aug 1942 HR news item, Twentieth Century-Fox had entered negotiations with Orson Welles to direct the picture and play Lanser, but a 29 Sep 1942 HR news item announced that the "deal eventually fell through because Welles's numerous commitments and activities complicated the arrangements to the point where the picture might have been delayed." A 1 Oct 1942 HR news item asserted, however, that Welles turned down the role "because the the play is not to his liking," and noted that Welles may have been influenced by the "caustic criticism by both drama and literary critics" of "Steinbeck's portrayal of Colonel Lanser as a reasonable, understanding and sympathetic figure." A 17 Sep 1942 HR news item stated that Otto Preminger had been signed for the part, while studio publicity and HR news items noted that the following actors had been tested: Charles Laughton, Conrad Veidt, Alfred Lunt, Paul Lukas and Fritz Kortner.
       According to a 15 Oct 1942 HR news item, Dudley Digges was originally signed to play "Dr. Albert Winter." A 4 Jun 1942 HR news item noted that William Eythe, who had appeared as "Lt. Tonder" in Steinbeck's play, had been placed under contract by Twentieth Century-Fox and would "likely" be reprising his role. The only member of the New York cast who did reprise his role was E. J. Ballantine, whose portrayal of "George Corell" marked his screen acting debut. According to a Sep 1942 HR news item, Anna Sten was under consideration for "one of the leading feminine roles" in the production. A Feb 1943 press release includes Hans Wollenberger in the cast, but his appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed.
       According to information in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the PCA objected that the sequence between "Molly" and "Lt. Tonder," during which she stabs him to death in her bedroom, was "sex suggestive." The PCA was also worried that the killing seemed "to be a murder, and not in any sense a killing in the line of military necessity." After voicing numerous concerns about the killing, the PCA finally granted the picture a certificate number, "issued on the understanding that you have deleted the scenes of the woman hiding the scissors under the pillow of the bed."
       According to the film's pressbook, ice skating star Sonja Henie acted as a technical advisor on the language and costumes of her native Norway. An Oct 1942 HR news item noted that fellow Norgwegian and technical advisor H. M. Waller was present in Norway at the time of its invasion by Germany. The pressbook also reported that director Irving Pichel viewed newsreel-type footage of the invasion of Norway to "get authentic data on how the German soldiers and Norwegian people conducted themselves during the conquest." Contemporary sources reported that most of the production was filmed on location at Brent's Crags, CA, in the same mining village set used for How Green Was My Valley. According to a Sep 1942 press release, Lake Arrowhead, CA, was the site of a sequence shot before the beginning of principal photography.
       The picture marked the screen acting debut of Peter Van Eyck and the return to the screen of actress Dorris Bowdon, who was married to Nunnally Johnson. Bowdon's previous screen appearance was in the 1940 Twentieth Century-Fox film Jennie . Director Irving Pichel, who also appears in The Moon Is Down as the innkeeper "Peder," was married to Violette Wilson, who plays "Peder's wife." According to an 11 Feb 1943 studio publicity release, Sir Cedric Hardwicke directed the scenes featuring Pichel as Peder. According to a 15 Mar 1943 NYT news item, the picture received its world premiere in the "Little Norway" section of Toronto, Canada, in a screening for three hundred members of the Royal Norwegian Air Force.
       The film received good reviews upon its release, with many concurring that it was not likely to be subject to the same criticism as Steinbeck's book and play. Bosley Crowther, the NYT reviewer, commented: "The noisy and passionate controversy aroused by The Moon Is Down when the John Steinbeck play and novel were presented something over a year ago, is not likely to be rekindled to any appreciable degree by the clear and incisive screen version." In a subsequent NYT article, in which Crowther protested the "occasional expressions of misgiving [that] have been voiced by respectable folk," he stated, " The Moon Is Down is far and away the best conception of the human and moral issues involved when the Nazis took over a free country that the screen has yet manifested." The picture was named one of the ten best films of the year by the National Board of Review, and Hardwicke was listed as the third best actor of the year by the board.
       According to a 22 Jul 1943 HR news item, Nazi censors forced the Swedish government to ban the film. The news item also reported that the picture had recently been exhibited in London, where the exiled King of Norway was "most enthusiastic about it." The news item noted that the king believed that American criticism of "the portrayal of a sympathetic Nazi was unjust," and quoted his reaction as: "'Show a sympathetic Nazi, as this picture does, and it teaches people that the Nazis are not supermen--they are just ordinary people, cruel, but with the same weaknesses, the same thoughts. As a result, the cruelties they practice are doubly bad." In 1946, Steinbeck was awarded the Haakon VII Cross by the King of Norway in recognition of the contributions made by his novel to the Norwegian war effort. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   13 Mar 1943.   
Daily Variety   10 Mar 43   p. 3.
Film Daily   10 Mar 43   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   13 Apr 42   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   22 Apr 42   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   29 Apr 42   p. 1, 4
Hollywood Reporter   4 Jun 42   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   31 Jul 42   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   20 Aug 42   p. 1, 4
Hollywood Reporter   11 Sep 42   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   17 Sep 42   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   28 Sep 42   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   29 Sep 42   pp. 2-3.
Hollywood Reporter   1 Oct 42   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   5 Oct 42   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   12 Oct 42   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   15 Oct 42   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   20 Oct 42   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   11 Nov 42   p. 4, 9
Hollywood Reporter   18 Nov 42   pp. 2-3.
Hollywood Reporter   15 Dec 42   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   17 Dec 42   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   18 Dec 42   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   24 Dec 42   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   15 Jan 43   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   23 Feb 43   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   10 Mar 43   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   22 Jul 43   p. 3.
Motion Picture Daily   10 Mar 43   p. 1, 3
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   13 Mar 43   p. 1201.
New York Times   15 Mar 43   p. 11.
New York Times   27 Mar 43   p. 8.
New York Times   4 Apr 1943.   
Variety   10 Mar 43   p. 15.

Display Movie Summary
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
Advanced Search
Support our efforts to preserve hisotory of film
Help AFI Preserve Film History

© 2017 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.
Terms of use.