We are particularly pleased to release two DVDs -- THE LAST CHANCE (1945) and SWISS TOUR(1949) --that GME has co-published with Praesens-Film AG, a Swiss production company founded in 1924 that is still active today. According to film scholar Yvonne Zimmerman, “The flagship Swiss movies produced by Praesens were made primarily by foreigners, immigrants and émigrés. Praesens founder Lazar Wechsler was of Polish origin who came to Switzerland from Austria in 1914, shortly after the outbreak of World War I and established Praesens-Film AG in 1924. Wechsler had been able to build a stable team of highly qualified staff, which turned out to be crucial to the success of the company. Not just Praesens, but Swiss cinema as a whole, benefited from the services of émigrés and repatriates from Germany, Austria and France who from 1933 sought refuge in Switzerland from National Socialist repression. The Praesens staff included director Leopold Lindtberg, scriptwriter Richard Schweizer, cameraman Emil Berna, composer Robert Blum and film editor Hermann Haller."
Zimmermann also notes that “Lazar Wechsler's cinema of humanism and international understanding played a significant part in the moral rehabilitation of Switzerland abroad. The fact that Swiss banks had managed German assets and accepted gold plundered by the Nazis during the war had damaged the country's image. Switzerland's reputation was particularly badly battered in the United States. In this light, SWISS TOUR can be seen as part of a cultural image campaign run by Switzerland in the United States.” Remarkably, though, blacklisted screenwriter Ring Lardner, Jr. wrote the English dialogue for this film.”
Both films were directed by Leopold Lindtberg, who to this day is regarded as one of Switzerland’s most successful feature film directors. Between 1935 and 1953, Lindtberg made twelve feature films for Praaesens. Like Weschler, the company’s founder, Lindtberg was also a Jewish émigré. Born in 1902 in Austria, he worked as a stage director in Germany before emigrating to Switzerland via Paris in 1933. Until 1948, Lindtberg was a director at the Zurich Schauspielhaus theatre, where he put on more than a hundred productions, including world premieres of plays by Bertolt Brecht, Friedrich Dürrenmatt and others, that helped gain the Schauspielhaus an international reputation as a stage for anti-fascist resistance.
THE LAST CHANCE (1945) is one of the most important contributions to Swiss film history. This movie carries on where Jean Renoir's LA GRANDE ILLUSION (1939) leaves off: three escaped prisoners of war lead a caravan of refugees across the Swiss border to safety. It was distributed internationally and released in the United States by MGM, and was awarded the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. More recently, the film was rescreened as part of the Cannes Classics section for the festival’s 2016 edition.
SWISS TOUR (1949) recounts a love story set against the backdrop of American soldiers stationed in Europe in the aftermath of WWII, who are on leave in Switzerland. The main protagonist (American actor Cornel Wilde) was at the peak of his career, as well as his two love interests: French actress Josette Day had created a sensation as Belle in LA BELLE ET LA BÊTE(1946), and Simone Signoret’s career was on the rise.
The DVD edition of this film originates from pristine nitrate film elements that GME discovered in warehouse storage in the New York metropolitan area. The Cinémathèque suisse acquired and preserved this material, and the restored film was shown at the Locarno Film Festival in 2007. GME subsequently collaborated with Praesens Film to produce this digital edition. This DVD is accompanied by an original essay by scholar Yvonne Zimmermann about SWISS TOUR, Praesens Film, and the larger cultural context in which these films were produced, together with an introduction by archivist Jon Gartenberg about rediscovering the film. Bonus materials include newsreels about American servicemen in Switzerland, the arrival of the movie stars for the filming of SWISS TOUR, and behind-the-scenes production footage in full view of the Matterhorn.
Related Films of Interest From the World War II and Postwar Era
Also Available from GME
For the latest announcement about our releases please see GME's Spring 2018 DVD Release.