Based on a memoir by concentration-camp survivor Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place details what happened when a Dutch family transformed their home into a safe haven for Jews during the German occupation of Holland, only to pay a horrific price for their altruism. Infused with probing theological conversations about how a merciful God can allow the existence of cruelty and suffering, The Hiding Place is a sermon in the form of a drama. Yet the unflinching way that director James F. Collier and his collaborators depict the hardships of war entirely from the victims’ perspective—no effort is made to humanize or “understand” the oppressors—gives the piece tremendous credibility. Ultimately, The Hiding Place is a story about the challenge of maintaining genuine faith when confronted with the worst of what humans can do to each other.
The picture begins at the onset of the occupation, when Gentile patriarch Casper ten Boom (Arthur O’Connell) decides to take a stand against the Nazis who have invaded his homeland. Casper, a kindly grandfather who runs his family’s century-old clock shop, initially defies the Germans by wearing a gold star on his sleeve in solidarity with ostracized Jews. Later, accepting entreaties from the Dutch Resistance, Casper allows his family’s large home to be fitted with secret compartments capable of holding a large number of fugitives. Throughout the first half of the picture, Casper and his relatives—notably adult daughters Betsie (Julie Harris) and Corrie (Jeannette Clift)—justify their actions by articulating their love for Jesus. This first half also includes fraught relations between the ten Booms and some of their “boarders,” who appreciate the family’s courage but disagree with their Christian ideology.
Midway through the picture, the Nazis discover that the ten Booms have aided Jews—although the Germans fail to find the people hidden inside the ten Boom household, all of the ten Booms are carted off to concentration camps. Thereafter, the movie becomes a survival story focused on the time Betsie and Corrie spend as prisoners in a work camp. (The focus also expands to include Corrie’s closest confidant in the camp, fellow prisoner Katje, played with fierce determination by Eileen Heckart.) The second half of The Hiding Place is filled with abuse and pain and tragedy, and yet through all her travails Connie tries to espouse her father’s ideals of surmounting earthly rigors through faith.
The strongest virtue of The Hiding Place is that it never casts Corrie’s wartime ordeal in a nostalgic glow, as if the Holocaust was merely a test of faith; instead, the picture offers a clinical look at how one family, and by extension one individual, relied on religion to sustain humanity amid an inhumane situation. The anguished performances by Clift and Harris deliver this theme passionately, just as the unvarnished filmmaking by Collier and his technicians accentuates the terrifying reality of concentration-camp existence. Given its narrow focus, The Hiding Place is too long, even though each scene more or less justifies its own existence with some flourish of narrative or performance; furthermore, the picture probably didn’t need quite as many dialogue exchanges about theology. Nonetheless, this is powerful, sincere work about a subject that can never be explored in sufficient depth—and the movie also represents a fine tribute to an individual, and a family, possessed of extraordinary moral strength.
The Hiding Place: GROOVY