until Howard goes to the camp colonel Paul Lukas, who is sympathetic to Howard’s appeals, based on their both being Oxford alumni, and a recognition of each other’s bearing as gentlemen, despite the circumstances of war. Lukas allows the POWs to build and live in personalized little cabins, and have freedom to exercise and move around, on the condition that any further escape attempt will doom all the others to losing all privileges, and Howard will be held personally responsible.
Captured is the story of a German prisoner of war camp/ air force base housing all manner of allied fighters, including Leslie Howard (Gone With the Wind), who’s been there 2 years and has become the figure most trusted and respected by the other POWs. After an attempted escape, the POWs are banished for weeks to the most inhuman conditions,
Then, the next wave of POWs brings with it Howard’s old buddy Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. who is strangely distant and bent on escape, not having any allegiance or feeling of loyalty to the other POWs. Howard pumps Fairbanks for news on his wife (of only a few days before Howard left for war) Margaret Lindsay, and it becomes clear to the viewer that Fairbanks’ discomfort at the questions and Lindsay’s letter –not to Howard but to Fairbanks — all adds up to a love triangle and deeper explanation for Fairbanks’ antsiness. Fairbanks finally does make a break on the same night a local milkmaid is murdered, and when his personal items are found near the body, including a certain love letter that Howard finally reads, Fairbanks is returned to the camp for a trial, confident he will be cleared.
Captured raises interesting questions about deal-making with an enemy, and about the difficulty of honor among friends where love is concerned. The machinery of the POW exchanges and international legal systems are almost used to exact revenge for a personal, romantic betrayal, with Fairbanks’ life at stake and totally dependent on Howard’s mercy and forgiveness, for he ends up holding not only a stubborn grudge, but also the one exonerating piece of evidence.
Other cast members include the prolific chameleon and master of ethnicities and accents, J. Carroll Naish. Overall the acting is good save for the two really hammed up performances: the Brit who snarls like he was captured from a pirate ship, and a stereotypical Yankee, “Tex,” with an outsized cud-chewing cowboy drawl, who gets all misty over a picture of his baby cow back home on the range.
The movie was adapted from a book by noted British war correspondent Sir Philip Gibbs, whose writing on graphic wartime details and his view of the incompetent military and waste of life was heavily censored during the height of World War 1. The war made him a pacifist and vocal proponent of soft power, diplomacy and the League of Nations to solve the world’s problems. Captured is not an essential WW1 film by any stretch, but is fast and entertaining, with some amazing action scenes, and is definitely a must-see for fans of the lead actors.