UK / 1954 / Ealing
Dir: Charles Crichton
Writers: Jack Whittingham, Richard Hughes
Cast: Cornell Borchers, Yvonne Mitchell, Geoffrey Keen
“There are enough qualities in all this to make The Divided Heart rank with the best Ealing Studios dramatic productions (Mandy and It Always Rains on Sundays), and it is a subject that perhaps aims higher than either,” was the verdict of Monthly Film Bulletin on this powerful vintage emotional drama.
Bavarians Cornell Borchers and Armin Dahlen have brought up war orphan Michael Ray as their own child but when he is ten, they are visited by officials from the International Refugee Organisation, who inform them that the boy’s mother, Yugoslav Yvonne Mitchell, is alive and desperately wants him back. The issue has to be decided before the United States Court of the Allied High Commission where Mitchell tells her story. Her husband was shot for helping the Partisans and her two daughters taken away by the Germans, she had herself worked with the Partisans and had spent the last years of the war in Auschwitz. However, Borchers’ claim seems almost as strong.
She had legally adopted Ray and cared for him single-handedly while her husband was a prisoner in Russia. The judges defer their decision until they hear what Ray wants after meeting his real mother. Mitchell’s three-day visit to the Bavarian village is not a success at first. She is cut off from Ray by the language barrier and senses his inherent mistrust and suspicion but gradually she erodes his resentment. Nevertheless, the boy wants to stay with Borchers and Dahlen – but the judges decide he should be with Mitchell, claiming they are not giving custody of the son to the mother but giving the mother into her son’s custody…
Michael Balcon rightly regarded The Divided Heart as one of the best films made at Ealing. The moving, emotionally perceptive screenplay was based on a real-life incident and the sensitive, sympathetic direction marked a distinct – and impressive – change of pace for Charles Crichton, best known for such classic Ealing Comedies as The Lavender Hill Mob, whose handling of both subject and actors was exemplary.