"Hiding Place" Re-Release a Must-See for a New Generation
- Annabelle Robertson Entertainment Critic
- 2006 14 Apr
(Re-)Release Date: April 2006
Rating: PG (mild thematic elements and brief language)
Genre: Family Drama
Run Time: 2 hrs. 36 min.
Director: James F. Collier
Actors: Jeannette Clift, Julie Harris, Eileen Heckart, Arthur O’Connell, Paul Henley, Robert Rietty, Richard Wren, Nigel Hawthorne and Corrie Ten Boom
In 1975, Billy Graham Worldwide Pictures produced one of the best “Christian” films ever made. Based on the book, “The Hiding Place,” by Corrie Ten Boom, a WWII Holocaust survivor, the film was seen by millions and heralded as an accurate, moving description of life under the Nazi regime – as well as a powerful presentation of the gospel. Now, 31 years later, “Billy Graham Presents” is re-releasing a restored version of the film on DVD, which will allow a younger generation to view and contemplate this very important film.
Written by Allan Sloane (“Martin Luther”) and Lawrence Holben, “The Hiding Place” deviates little from Ten Boom’s memoir, which opens in 1940 and carries through 1944. Corrie (Jeannette Clift) and Elizabeth “Betsy” Ten Boom (Julie Harris) are unmarried, 50-something women who live and work with their elderly father, Caspar “Papa” Ten Boom (Arthur O’Connell) in the Harlaam district of Amsterdam. The Ten Boom family has owned and operated an upscale watch shop for more than 100 years, and they are popular among their neighbors. But the Nazis have just arrived to occupy Holland, and things are growing increasingly worse for the country’s Jews. The Ten Booms, who are devout Christians, are uneasy about these changes, but unsure how to combat them. When the Nazis force the Jews to wear yellow identification stars, however, the outspoken Caspar takes action. He lines up, requests a star and proceeds to wear it at all times.
“If we all wear them,” he rightly says, “then they won’t be able to tell us apart.” Alas, as history shows, solidarity was the exception – not the rule – among Gentiles. Soon, Jews are being carted off, sometimes even in the middle of the night. Even the Ten Boom’s pastor, Reverend De Ruiter (Nigel Hawthorne), remains passive. Not only does he beg Caspar to remove the star, but he is aghast when they ask him to safeguard a Jewish baby in his country home.
“Christians must always obey the law,” he stutters. Caspar agrees, but with one exception: when the law violates God’s statutes. Therefore, says the octogenarian, he will remove the yellow star. He will, however, keep the baby – and anyone else who knocks on his door for protection, too. And with these words, the Ten Booms become another “stop” on the underground railroad of the Dutch resistance. Aided by their brothers, Willem (Robert Rietty) and Peter (Paul Henley) – who have long been involved in these activities – Corrie and Betsy begin to take in Jews.
Their day-to-day decisions are not always the wisest, although the family certainly has good intentions. Corrie refuses to even look at the name of, much less turn in, a local businessman who betrays Jews to the Gestapo. They forget the importance of quiet, encouraging their guests to sing one night after dinner And, they’re willing to help anyone who asks. Can arrest be far behind? Unfortunately not.
Soon, the family is rounded up and taken to prison. Corrie and Betsy are separated, then miraculously reunited on a train to Ravensbruck, a concentration camp for women. While there, Betsy teaches the other inmates about Jesus, even as they struggle to survive. She also encourages Corrie in her floundering faith, urging her to give thanks “in all things” – even the lice in their cramped and filthy quarters. Corrie reluctantly agrees, only to learn, sometime later, that thanks to the lice, the vicious prison guards refuse to enter the premises, leaving the women to do and speak as they please during the evenings, when not engaged in back-breaking labor. Then Betsy has a dream from the Lord. They will both be free before the new year, she says. It seems impossible, in this place without hope. But, as Corrie is about to learn, God’s ways are oh-so higher than our ways.
James Collier (“Joni”) made a career out of directing Christian films, but “The Hiding Place” is probably his best – if not his most famous – movie. In addition to coaxing excellent performances from his cast, he uses visual cues to perfection, such as the brief close-up of a fire, as the train travels to Ravensbruck and the engineer adds shovelfuls of coal. In another scene, we see a huge chimney billowing black smoke, through the reflection in a mirror. During the concentration camp scenes, he has the actors clamor for food and clothing, walk through mud, shiver in the cold and dress, after a shower, without first toweling off. These are powerful, lasting images that attest to Collier’s talent.
While the script is straightforward, it is never simplistic. Scripture is quoted throughout, but it is always in context, and never forced. As a result, it flows naturally and is extremely credible. Moreover, Collier manages to avoid both the nudity and the graphic descriptions which modern directors find so necessary. Although the film refers to the hideous medical experiments conducted on inmates, for example (when a nurse says that pregnant women are always sent to “Experimental”), it is always brief and indirect, making the film wholly appropriate for older children – with great parental input, of course.
“The Hiding Place” benefits from excellent performances all around that never veer into sentimentality or especially, cheesy evangelism. Although the women are Christians who both live and explain their faith, they are credible and real. Perhaps this is because we see such real people who struggle, as well as a diversity of faith – not just in Corrie and Betsy, but also in the other characters. It is therefore not surprising that Jeannette Clift received both a Golden Globe nomination and a BAFTA nomination for her performance in this film. Julie Harris, who just happens to be the most honored performer in Tony history with ten nominations and five victories, was also outstanding.
Cinematographer Michael Reed (“On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”) uses a lot of darkness throughout the film, especially during the nighttime scenes inside the inmate’s quarters. Sometimes, he even leaves the actors faces hidden, save for a sliver of light. It’s odd, yet it works, especially when the next scene takes place outside, where the sun bounces off the snow. This cinematography almost seems to be a message, with its stark contrasts between dark and light.
I remember reading (and later, seeing) “The Hiding Place” several times as a teenager, and it served as my introduction to both the horrors of WWII and the theology of suffering. Corrie Ten Boom did not claim to have all the answers, yet she presented her faith – as well as the need for forgiveness – in such a dramatic way that I have never forgotten it. So as I watched this film again, I was reminded of the things that had left their imprint on my heart years ago.
One, God cares more about our character than our comfort. It’s a chilling, frightening reality in a world bent on material comfort, but one that I know from experience to be true. Two, there are prisons worse than Nazi concentration camps.
“I live to hate,” says one of the inmates to Corrie, early during their imprisonment.
“Hate is surely a prison worse than this,” she answers.