REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:
LISA. 20th Century Fox, 1962. Stephen Boyd, Dolores Hart, Leo McKern, Hugh Griffith, Donald Pleasance, Harry Andrews, Robert Stephens, Marius Goring, Finlay Currie, Geoffrey Keen, Jack Gwillim. Screenplay by Nelson Giddings, based on the novel The Inspector by Jan de Hartog. Directed by Philip Dunne.
An unusual adventure story/thriller in that despite the tension and real suspense, there are few real villains in the story and many small flawed but human heroes instead.
The place is Holland in 1946 and Peter Jongman (Stephen Boyd) and Sgt. Stollers (Donald Pleasance) are Dutch policemen tracking a suspected ex-Nazi, Thorens (Marius Goring), who they believe is part of a white slavery ring offering to smuggle refugees to America and Canada but actually selling them to brothels in South America. They intercept Thorens on the boat train to Hoek and London while he is transporting one Lisa Held (Dolores Hart), a concentration camp survivor, and Jongman follows them to London.
In London Jongman is angered to learn from his policeman friend (Jack Gwillim) that Scotland Yard can do nothing so he confronts Thorens himself. There is a struggle and he knocks Thorens down. Outside the flat he meets Lisa and learns she is a concentration camp survivor Thorens offered to transport to Palestine. Jongman offers to take her back to Amsterdam and she agrees having nowhere else to go, and along the way decides to help her get to Palestine, but once back in Amsterdam he learns from his superior (Geoffrey Keen) that Thorens was killed and he is wanted for questioning and the girl suspected of murder.
But Jongman has a secret that plagues him and decides to risk everything to get the girl to Palestine, setting off an international manhunt along the way.
Based on a novel by bestselling novelist Jan de Hartog (The Captain, The Key, etc.) Lisa is unusual in that it concentrates on small human acts of kindness and humanity rather than villains or villainy. There are villains, Thorens played briefly but menacingly by Marius Goring, the unseen, for the most part, Nazis from the war, and a ship of modern pirates they encounter along the way, but they play relatively small roles.
In a quiet and subtle way Lisa is about kindness and regret in the face of the horrors of the war. Jongman is haunted by having stayed as a policeman during the Occupation and his failure to save a Jewish girl he loved that he had believed the Germans would leave alone if he cooperated. Saving this one girl is his chance at redemption. Lisa herself, a survivor of Nazi medical experiments, is dead inside and has to be reborn through the love that develops between Jongman and herself, and the simple kindness they encounter along the way, Palestine is a dream of new life to her among others wounded as she was since she believes she can’t survive among normal people, but the journey will transform her into a living breathing woman again.
At each turn the two encounter good people who help them along the way; Jan (Finlay Currie( the river master who knows every smuggler in Holland and has known Jongman since he was a young policeman on the River Police; grumpy old Captain Brandt (Leo McKern), the barge captain who helps smuggle them out of Holland; Sgt. Stollers, too good a policeman not to be ahead of Jongman at every stop and too good a man not to risk is career to save him; Van der Pink (Hugh Griffith) the canny Dutch smuggler in Tangier; Roger Dickens (Robert Stephens) the humane British agent whose job; however much he hates it, is to stop them from entering Palestine and see Jongman goes back to England to face the law; and, Captain Ayoub (Harry Andrews) the Arab gun smuggler who also smuggles Jewish refugees into Palestine.
It’s a strong movie. The scene where Lisa relives the horror of her ordeal in the medical experimentation camp is powerful stuff, and there are more than enough setbacks and tension to engender suspense while the romance that develops between Jongman and Lisa is affectingly played by Boyd and Hart as simple and human. This was Hart’s last film before she became a nun, and supposedly her favorite of the ones she did.
This is an intelligent and ultimately heartwarming film about redemption and sacrifice, survival, decency, and hope. It isn’t political and it doesn’t beat the viewer over the head about the horrors that lay behind it, but deals with them in a straight forward manner, both the horrors men can perpetrate upon each other, and the small kindnesses and moments of human decency that sometimes redeem them.
No one should be surprised McKern, Griffith, and Andrews steal the thing whenever they are on screen. All three were veteran scene stealers by the time this film was made. Boyd was a more than capable leading man whose ability to play a villain as well as a hero enriched his performances, and Hart, in her few roles, had a short but remarkably strong career.
The film is richly shot in color in Cinemascope on location across Europe and in the Middle East with a rich score by Malcolm Arnold; add to that brief but strong performances by Donald Pleasance, Robert Stephens, Finlay Currie, and Marius Goring, and Lisa is a strong and affecting film that does exactly what author Jan de Hartog intended of his novel, to give people hope in the face of the horrors of the past.