The New York Times, August 24, 1958


Scenarist Traces New Comedy Back to Broadway and Wartime Memories


The story which is "Me and the Colonel" has had a curious history. From the night Franz Werfel first told it to me it took three years to reach the theatre. It has taken seventeen to reach the screen. (See photo below.)

HARMONIOUS FUGITIVES—Curt Jurgens (top) and Danny Kaye render a wine-flavored duet during their flight from the Nazis in "Me and the Colonel." The comedy is slated to open Tuesday at the Odeon and the Fine Arts.

One evening in the spring of 1941, when I was working in Hollywood, I was invited by Max Reinhardt, who was also working there, to come to dinner to meet a distinguished refugee, Franz Werfel. In the pleasant pastime of denigrating Hollywood, one fact about it, I believe, has never been brought out, namely that it has been a refuge for exiled artists as Geneva had been in the eighteenth century for Voltaire and Rousseau.

I knew Max Reinhardt well and had often reveled in his hospitality: he was the most gracious host in the world. I shall never forget another dinner party he gave me in another house of his—Leopoldskron, the archiepiscopal palace that was his home in Salzburg, Austria—in August, 1937.

Oncoming Clouds

We sat after dinner in the exquisite baroque library. Felix Salten, the author of "Bambi," was one of the group. Hitler's aerie at Berchtesgaden was visible from Max's terrace.

"Hitler knows," Max told me, "everything that goes on here, what visitors I have, and how long they stay. He knows because my servants tell him."

Since then, looking back at that evening, it seems to me that Max and all that little group of men and women were in some kind of somnambulism. How is it that they did not know? Why were they not thinking of escape, of exile?' 'Why were they sitting there talking of books and music and the theatre—irrelevancies of civilization when there was no civilization? There was only the watcher on the mountain top above them: they had only one .thing to think about, to escape his vigilance. The great fact of life was the oldest fictional standby: The Chase.

Well, it was four years later, in Hollywood, and here was Max sitting at the head of his table again. Opposite me sat the other refugee, Franz Werfel.

I adored Werfel from the start; you couldn't help it. He was small, rotund ("I am too thick," he admitted in his idiosyncratic English) with waved-back hair like Beethoven's and thick glasses. I knew his books and plays and was therefore unprepared for his dancing humor.

He told a story that delighted us, an incident of The Chase that made his plight, he said, almost worth while for him. It concerned a Jewish-Polish business man, one Jacobowitz, who had managed to get hold of a car but who couldn't drive. He fell in with an anti-Semitic Polish colonel, a cavalryman with a price on his head who could drive, though badly.

Enemies Together

The Pole disliked Jacobowitz, not personally, but on principle, and it is difficult for a romantic, noble and dedicated man to abdicate a principle. But Jacobowitz, perspiring in a hard sell, persuaded the colonel to stretch a point. About this odd deal, Werfel was hilarious. I said to him: "It's a play. You must write it." He said: "You write it" I finally did.

Columbia Pictures, unbalanced by the success of the play in New York, bought the picture rights for a vast sum. Over the years various treatments were made and duly filed. Three years, ago, while I was in France, I got a cable from Gottfried Reinhardt, the son of Max, then a producer at Columbia, asking if I would work on the script. When I arrived in Hollywood, a year later, I was handed a screen treatment worked out by George Froeschel, another Hollywood refugee. I thought the treatment superb—in many respects better than the play. I accepted it whole, and it remained for me only to write the dialogue.

I never re-read an old play of mine, but I was forced, when I started work on this picture, to read "Jacobowsky and the Colonel" again. I heard Oscar Karlweiss' voice saying the lines. I heard Louis Calhern's. They are both dead, but those who saw their performances will not forget them. I have never enjoyed any film work as I did this job. "Me and the Colonel" is the story of a chase. Old hat? Not while men pursue one another, not as animals do, for sustenance, but for revenge and self-assertion, for the delusion of superiority, and the sweet incitement of terror in the quarry.

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