Sunday, November 29, 2009

49th Parallel (1941)

A propaganda film made my Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger for the ministry of information; this was commissioned to discourage neutrality to the Nazi threat, especially in North America. Like all Powell/Pressburger films, it is a true work of creative originality. I'm amazed by their career, how different all their films are, and how imaginative each one is. In this, we follow a dwindling group of Nazi sailors who, after their submarine is destroyed, work their way across Canada trying to make it to neutral America. They wind up in various rural communities, including a group of Hutterites, a trading post for French-Canadian trappers, and an anthropologist's camp in Banff. Like most episodic films, some episodes are better than others; in this, the best sequence is probably at the Hutterites, an Amish-like group of pacifist farmers. One of the Nazis falls in love with a woman there and becomes the group's baker. There are scenes of humor in this sequence and a grisly ending.

Several big stars agreed to work in the movie for half their salaries. These include Laurence Olivier, impressive as a strapping trapper, and Raymond Massey as a loony Canadian soldier who corrals the last Nazi standing. Lots of good stuff in this even if it's pretty dogmatic at times. For allied big-budget propaganda from that period, I prefer the wildly entertaining Foreign Correspondent.

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