Address Unknown (1944) Blu-ray Review


Reemerged Prescience

When a native German returns to his home country during Hitler’s rise to power, a thunderstorm begins to strike in the background. At home, in America, the German’s business partner reads a letter while rain drenches the city outside. Address Unknown thrives on that symbolic melodrama, too much, even for a piece of wartime propaganda.

Address Unknown is a warning film though, now a document of how seemingly rational people become ensnared by radical nationalism, to a point where they disengage from their own family. German Martin Schulz (Paul Lukas) first sends friendly letters back home Then, he turns. His letters become incomprehensible gibberish, full of rhetoric, as the Nazi regime entraps his thinking. It’s not visually enticing – Address Unknown sets a record for scenes of people sitting around reading letters – but the content is thematically striking.

“The man is like an electric shock,” writes Schulz in referencing Hitler’s ability to reach working class Germans. Schulz writes off anti-Jewish extremists; they exist as surface outliers, he claims to his Jewish business partner. It’s harrowing to hear how easily the racist bile is brushed off, considering irrelevant or a small cost toward the ideal Nazi nation.

For a time, Address Unknown existed in the past. Post-WWII, its message of Hitler’s rise rendered moot, Address Unknown wasn’t necessary. Then came the rise of nationalism in the 2010’s, post-recession, with people again feeling hurt and left behind. They voted. The cycle repeats.

Address Unknown isn’t a film about war or bigotry, rather the lead up

There’s no actual war with America in Address Unknown. The story takes place before the United State’s entry into combat. That’s why it works. Schulz doesn’t realize the wrongheadedness of Nazi ideology until the party ascended to power – it all looked so normal in the beginning. Hate was an aside. Families were separated. This all mattered because Germany needed to pull together, and this was the right cause to do so. Address Unknown shows this remarkably well, convincing in spite of its overwrought family drama.

Schulz as a character still exists. He’s a different man though. The radical ideology and distrust comes from cable news. Incomprehensible letters become social media posts. Pro-isolationism comes from another charismatic leader, less a politician than a boisterous celebrity. And that hate? Easily brushed off as part of an outlying fringe, even as people die during hate-filled marches in the streets. Address Unknown isn’t a film about war or bigotry, rather the lead up.

Upon release in 1944, Address Unknown was too late to stop nationalism from spreading; in 2019, it’s hopefully right on time with renewed importance.

Video

Address Unknown comes in a package of nine ‘40s and ‘50s noir films titled Noir Archive. Bundled on one disc with three other films, Address Unknown impresses with the depth of its detail and resolution. Featuring a number of close-ups, an anomaly for the time, definition is sensational. Facial texture dominates and scenes of German or American exteriors likewise maintain that sharpness.

Gray scale pushes hard, making those looming shadows dense. With people hiding in corners, their silhouettes fall to pure black. Brightness likewise sticks out, highlights rich and potent. Address Unknown uses extremes, but doesn’t ignore the mid-tones with natural gray.

Some issues with the print remain. A small fleet of scratches and distortion do remain. Most look as if a small pass of correction happened to produce this Blu-ray, as in scratches exist in a slightly faded state. It’s enough. One shot suffers severe gate weave, an anomaly in an otherwise stable presentation.

Any concern comes from the heavy grain structure. It’s preserved, thankfully, but encoding leads to a chunky appearance. Even with short runtimes, three films on one disc does bitrate starve things. That’s evident in the grain, looking digital rather than filmic. In terms of actual impact to fidelity and texture? It’s minimal.

Audio

Presented in DTS-HD, the opening score features a fine, clear mix of highs and lows. Drums beat with force, horns blare with sharp treble. Dialog exhibits little age, free of faults.

Any instances of hiss or static were left behind in the transfer process. From 1944, Address Unknown sounds splendidly organic and pure.

Extras

None of the films in the Noir Archive offer bonuses.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Address Unknown
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  • Extras

Movie

A wartime propaganda piece, Address Unknown reemerges as an important call to resist nationalism and fight against bigotry.

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