The Search

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The Search
The Search poster.jpg
Directed byFred Zinnemann
Produced byLazar Wechsler
Written byRichard Schweizer (also story)
David Wechsler (also story)
Paul Jarrico
Montgomery Clift
Betty Smith
StarringMontgomery Clift
Aline MacMahon
Jarmila Novotná
Wendell Corey
Ivan Jandl
Music byRobert Blum
CinematographyEmil Berna
Edited byHermann Haller
Distributed byLoew's, Inc.
Release date
  • March 23, 1948 (1948-03-23)
Running time
105 min.
CountryUnited States

The Search is a 1948 Swiss-American film directed by Fred Zinnemann which tells the story of a young Auschwitz survivor and his mother who search for each other across post-World War II Europe. It stars Montgomery Clift, Ivan Jandl, Jarmila Novotná and Aline MacMahon.

One oft-cited feature of this film is that many of the scenes were shot amidst the actual ruins of post-war German cities, namely Ingolstadt, Munich, Nuremberg, and Würzburg.[1] Filming took place between June and November, 1947, initially on location in Germany, before the cast and crew went to a film studio in Zurich, Switzerland, to film the interior scenes. Although released in the United States in March, 1948, it didn't receive a British release until May, 1950. It's European Premiere was held at the Empire cinema, Leicester Square, London, England, on Wednesday, November 2nd, 1949, in aid of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. By the time that Ivan Jandl's Academy Award for his performance in the film was announced in March, 1949, he had returned to his home in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and the communists had taken over the government. They would not allow Ivan to travel to the United States to receive the Oscar and the Golden Globe he had also been awarded for his role, so they had to be taken to him. At the Academy Awards ceremony, his Oscar was collected on stage on his behalf by the film's director, Fred Zinnemann.


During the Allied occupation of Germany, efforts are underway to rebuild the shattered country and reunite divided families. Trains transport homeless children (Displaced Persons or DPs), who are taken by Mrs. Murray (Aline MacMahon) and other United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) workers to a transit camp, where they are fed and protected. The next morning, UNRRA officials attempt identification of the children to help reunite them with their families.

A young boy named Karel (Ivan Jandl) responds "Ich weiß nicht" ("I don't know") to all questions. He grew up in a well-to-do Czech family. The Nazis had deported his sister and doctor father, while the boy and mother were sent to a concentration camp. Karel bears a tattoo numbering A24328, and it is suggested that the A prefix stands for Auschwitz. (in fact, tattooed numbers were only given in Auschwitz/Birkenau and the "A" was not indicative of the location.) They eventually became separated. After the war, Karel survived by scavenging for food with other homeless children.

The next day, children are loaded into trucks and ambulances for transfer to other camps. The children in Karel's group are at first terrified because the Nazis often used ambulances to asphyxiate victims, but eventually enter the vehicle. During the trip, the smell of exhaust fumes panics the children. Karel's friend Raoul forces open the back door and children scatter in all directions. Karel and Raoul try to swim across a river to escape from UNRRA men. Raoul drowns, but Karel hides in the reeds.

Later, Karel encounters an American army engineer, Steve (Montgomery Clift), who cares for him. Steve starts teaching the boy English. Because Karel cannot recall his name, Steve calls him Jim.

When Jim sees a boy with his mother, he starts remembering his own mother and when he last saw her, near a fence in the concentration camp. He runs away one evening thinking the fence is nearby. Jim finds a fence at a factory, but cannot find his mother among the workers going home. Steve eventually finds Jim and tells him that his mother is dead (Steve has reason to believe she had been gassed) so he will stop searching for her. He also informs Jim that he is going to try to adopt him and take him to America to start a new life there.

As it turns out, Karel's mother, Mrs. Malik (Jarmila Novotná), is alive. In a parallel story, she has been searching for her son. By chance, she begins working for Mrs. Murray at the same UNRRA camp where her son had been processed. After a while though, she resigns to resume her nearly-hopeless search for Karel.

That same day, Steve takes the boy to the UNRRA camp before leaving for America. He hopes to send for the boy once the paperwork is completed. Mrs. Murray remembers the boy. Suspecting that Jim is Karel, she hurries to the train station to bring Mrs. Malik back, but the train has already left. Then, she sees Mrs. Malik on the train platform; she had changed her mind and decided to stay.

Mrs. Murray takes her back to the UNRRA camp and has her greet the newest group of children. Steve tells Jim to join the new arrivals. Mrs. Malik begins to organize the children and bids them to follow her. Jim walks past without recognizing her. Mrs. Malik almost makes the same mistake, but then turns and calls, "Karel!", and the boy and his mother are reunited, in an emotional climax.


Awards and nominations[edit]

Academy Awards[edit]




  • Venice Film Festival 1948 OCIC-Commendation. The OCIC jury gave this commendation because "by its inspiration and its quality, this film contribues to spiritual progress and the development of human values". OCIC critic Johanes wrote that this film excelled in emotional power. [2]




Bosley Crowther of The New York Times praised it highly, calling it, "an absorbing and gratifying emotional drama of the highest sort".[3] Crowther thought that Clift got "precisely the right combination of intensity and casualness into the role".[3] Clint Eastwood singled out Clift's performance as the one that had the greatest influence on his own acting career.[4]

Despite the critical acclaim, the film did not perform well financially.[5]

Anne Helen Petersen, writing for The Hairpin in 2012, commented that the film is "mostly forgotten today".[4]

Radio adaptation[edit]

Theatre Guild on the Air presented The Search March 9, 1952. The one-hour adaptation starred Montgomery Clift and Fay Bainter.[6]


A remake of the same name was released in 2014, moving the action to the Second Chechen War. The film was written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius and stars Bérénice Bejo and Annette Bening among others.


  1. ^ "Filming locations for The Search (1948)".
  2. ^ Johanes, "The Venice Film Festival", p.33, in International Film Review, Brussels, 1949.
  3. ^ a b Bosley Crowther (March 24, 1948). "The Search". The New York Times ( Retrieved 2008-04-26. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  4. ^ a b Anne Helen Petersen. "Scandals of Classic Hollywood: The Long Suicide of Montgomery Clift". The Hairpin. Retrieved 2016-09-24.
  5. ^ Hift, Fred (February 20, 1957). "Hard to Come in Offbeat". Variety. p. 3. Retrieved June 10, 2019 – via
  6. ^ Kirby, Walter (March 16, 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 44. Retrieved May 23, 2015 – via open access

External links[edit]