The 25th Hour relates the misadventures of Johann Moritz (Anthony Quinn), a simple and innocent Romanian peasant, who is literally dragged out of his house during WWII and taken away from his gorgeous wife Suzanna (Virna Lisi) and two sons by forces he cannot comprehend.
A local police captain (Grégoire Aslan) who lusts after Suzanna includes Johann’s name on a list of local Jewish residents – even though Johann is Catholic – and he is sent to a forced labour camp for Jews.
Johann explains to the Kommandant that he is not Jewish while Suzanna tries unsuccessfully to get help from the authorities to rectify the mistake, but she is forced to divorce Johann in order to keep their house.
“For you, it’s an injustice,” he tells his fellow slave labourers, “for me, it’s a mistake.”
The hapless Johann finally escapes from the camp with a group of Jews but is captured again and sent to a concentration camp. The SS “race specialist” there (Marius Goring) realises there has been a mistake as Johann has the profile of the perfect Aryan and proclaims him the most perfect German discovered in 400 years.
Johann is subsequently freed and joins the SS and is unwittingly turned into a national hero in Nazi propaganda publications for having suffered the indignity of the Jewish label.
As the war ends, Johann – apolitical and an internal optimist – is captured by the Russians and thrown into prison until he is tried as a war criminal at Nuremberg and faces execution – only to be acquitted – with the help of his British defence counsel (Michael Redgrave) – because of the testimony of the Jewish friends whose lives he saved.
Filmed on location in Munich, Budapest and parts of Yugoslavia, The 25th Hour is one of the best anti-war films of all time. Quinn’s characterisation of the kindly, uneducated peasant is superb.
The Paris-Rome-Belgrade co-production in Metrocolor was packaged by Carlo Ponti with a screenplay by Henri Verneuil, Francois Boyer and Wolf Mankowitz.
Kenneth J. Warren
John Le Mesurier