This is an unusual film in many respects. It features splendid music by Vaughan-Williams, and in order to let the sections of music finish on the soundtrack rather than cut it off, we are often treated to extended montage sequences of the magnificence of the wild scenery of Canada, where the film is entirely set. (The 49th parallel is the border between Canada and the United States. In the USA, this film was released under the title 'The Invaders'.) The cinematographer was Freddie Young, whose work with the Indian tepee lighting effects shows his early promise with creative use of light. Camera operator was Skeets Kelly. Together, they did one bold 'avante garde' shot from a small boat as it rams ashore from a lake. This was very quickly cut away from, perhaps even too quickly, by the restless pace imposed by the editor, David Lean, who was soon to become a famous director. Numerous already famous people collaborated on this early wartime propaganda effort, which manages to be relatively light on propaganda and heavy on story. And a good story it is too, written and conceived by Romanian emigree Emeric Pressburger, for which he won a well-deserved Oscar. The film was ably directed by the always talented Michael Powell. The one stand-out bad performance is by Laurence Olivier, who wrongly imagined that he could play a French-Canadian outdoorsman. Despite showing his chest and acting hearty, he fails pathetically to pull this off, and his mechanical mouthing of the accent is far too laboured. He was so often his own worst enemy, by calculating rather than feeling his characters. The opposite is true of the delightful Lesley Howard, who creates a wonderful, eccentric and whimsical character of a vacationing scholar who is on the verge of becoming a Scarlet Pimpernel at any moment (he had made 'Pimpernel Smith' earlier the same year.). Niall MacGinnis is superb as a pathetically regretful Nazi who just wants to go back to being a baker and living a quiet life. Anton Walbrook is magnificent in his intensity as the leader of a pacifist religious sect, and he gets to deliver the best speech in the film. But the finest acting of all is by Eric Portman, who is absolutely terrifying as a fanatical Nazi blind to all reason. Glynis Johns makes an appearance as a fey young girl with a quavery voice, who gets a jibe in at the Nazis by overcoming her innate timidity. This was a very clever propaganda film, because its messages were deeply embedded in an ingenious story line. That story line is innovative and highly dramatic. A German submarine surfaces in Hudson Bay on the Atlantic Coast of Canada, during the period before America was in the War, but Canada, as a British colony, was already a combatant. Six men led by a lieutenant (played by Portman) go ashore in search of food and water supplies, but before they can go far, their submarine is sunk by aerial bombardment, leaving the six men stranded. The Canadian authorities are unaware that these six Nazi seamen are on the loose. The story then becomes the incredible odyssey of their journey across Canada, and the havoc they cause, as they try without food, water, or money to reach Vancouver on the Pacific Coast and take a ship to Japan. Naturally, lots of people get in their way and are killed. This whole project is very well pulled-off indeed, and makes exciting viewing even today.
A World War II U-boat crew are stranded in northern Canada. To avoid internment, they must make their way to the border and get into the still-neutral U.S.
September 11, 2020