In the ruins of post war Berlin, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) tries to reunite children from all over Europe separated from their parents , or find them new homes.
Aline MacMahon is ‘Mrs. Murray’, one of the UN officials who leads a team looking after the child refugees who, when they arrive at the Agency, are often in rags and bare feet.
One little boy, ‘Karel Malik’ ( Ivan Jandl) has been in a concentration camp and is so traumatised that he does not speak except to say he does not know anything. His mind has shut down, he only has primitive reactions.
After running away from the agency, Karel meets an American army engineer, Steve ( Montgomery Clift) who cares for the boy after gaining his trust. Steve slowly teaches him English (Karel is Czechoslovakian).
Karel’s mother , ‘Mrs. Malik ‘ (Jamila Novotna) has escaped from the concentration camp and has spent months trudging around the zones of occupied Germany searching for Karel.
There are so many moving scenes in this film, and mainly because of the superb performance of Ivan Jandl who had never acted before.
As Karel becomes more human with the care and kindness he receives from Steve , his memory starts to function. When he hears the word ‘mother’, he says, “Steve, what does it mean – mother?”
And suddenly he remembers he had a mother. He cries out to Steve, “where is my mother? I have a mother. Where is she?
He has a vague memory of a camp and leaves Steve’s apartment, running towards a factory that is nearby. There is a fence which is also a memory to him.A group of factory women at the end of a shift stream by him in silence while he looks at their faces, searching for his mother.
A powerful scene.
The children are fed at the UN agency. All are silent.
Wendell Corey has a supporting role as Clift’s army buddy.
Some lighter scenes in the film when Steve is figuring out how to teach English to Karel.
Karel and the factory workers.
And ,spoiler, there is a happy ending.
It’s amazing to read that Ivan Jandl (1937-1987) had never acted before and spoke no English. That of course says much for the direction of Fred Zinnemann.
This is one of the best child performances I have ever seen.
Ivan was awarded a juvenile Oscar but the Czech government would not let him got to Hollywood to collect the award. Fred Zinnemann accepted the Oscar (and a Golden Globe) for Ivan. The Oscar was then passed on to the Czech ambassador .
Ivan appeared in a few Czech films in 1949/50 and then found work on radio. He died in Prague, aged 50, in 1987 from diabetes complications.
The film was shot in the ruins of Munich and Nuremberg, with interiors in a studio in Munich.
This was Montgomery Clift’s second film, but released before “Red River”.
Jarmila Novotna (1907-1994) was a renowned opera singer who made a few films in Europe. In a 1988 interview, she said: “We made it in Germany in 1947 and it was a grim reminder of the war.”
A Czechoslovakian patriot, Jarmila was exiled from her homeland by the Nazis and then the Soviets. She sang in Europe and America and appeared in THE GREAT CARUSO. Her memoir, “My Life In Song” was published in 2018.
“The Search” is a remarkable film and is available on dvd in the Warner Brothers Archive Collection.
The innocent casualties of war.
A poster by MGM for film exhibitors , indicating how they should exploit the film. This was a serious film with no stars (Montgomery Clift was unknown) and I doubt MGM expected to make a profit.
A few of Clift’s films were partially shot in Germany – “The Big Lift”, “The Young Lions” “Judgement At Nuremberg”, “Freud” and “The Defector”.
I will be watching The Big Lift next.
Good stuff. I love this film. Monty got his first Oscar nomination for it.
Clift was very good, a natural on film.
An excellent review, except that the boy’s name was Karel, not Karl.
Thank you for correcting your spelling mistake regarding Karel’s name. This is the most remarkable and moving film I’ve ever seen. You would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by it. It’s so well made and the acting in it is superb, especially that of Ivan Jandl. There is one particular scene in it that must have shocked cinema audiences in 1948, where the ten years old Raoul (Claude Gambier) tries to swim across a river to escape the pursuing UNRRA soldiers and is unable to make it to the other bank and drowns, his limp and lifeless body flowing over a weir like a rag doll. A word also about the superb music score by Robert Blum, which fits the mood of the film and its scenes so very well. In fact, it’s a wonderful score and is just perfect for the film. It’s odd though that the actors who played Karel as a four year old and his father Doctor Malik and his sister, Vlasta, seen in flashback sequences, received no credit. Is there anyone out there who can identify them? I was born in April, 1947, and filming started on The Search two months later in June, so it just goes to show how long ago it is since it was made. The Search was premiered in the USA in March, 1948 and given its Royal European Premiere in the UK in November, 1949, at the Empire, Leicester Square, London, in aid of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
Thank you for your comments and for correcting my error. It is such a powerful film.
It is surprising as you say that a complete cast list is unavailable. I checked IMDB.
I have been doing some research on this remarkable, if neglected film and was amazed to find that it has only ever been shown once on British television and that was on the BBC on the afternoon of Sunday, April 25th, 1976. Forty-four years ago! Some films are shown once and are never shown again and others, far less worthy, are repeated ad infinitum.
The displaced children in the film, 300 of them (with the exception of Ivan Jandl) were hired from the UNRRA children’s orphanage at Rosenheim near Munich. At first they were petrified of taking part in the film and reliving their experiences, but director Fred Zinnemann convinced them that the film would bring their plight to the attention of the world and help displaced persons like themselves and they finally agreed to take part. Filming began under great logistical difficulties in Germany in June, 1947. The children, survivors of the war in general and the concentration camps in particular, looked real because they were real. They were not allowed by UNRRA to be paid in money for taking part.
Thank you for all that extra information. Such a powerful film, it is terrible it is never shown .