Sunday, July 29, 2007
49TH PARALLEL (1941, UK, Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger screenplay from Rodney Ackland story. Ralph Vaughan Williams score)
When we win the war, we send you some missionaries.
1940. Six Nazi crewmen are stranded on Canadian soil when their U-boat is sunk in Hudson's Bay. Seeking a route to asylum in safely neutral America or Japan – delicious irony – they encounter most of the available Canuck stereotypes, from courageous Eskimo to noble Indian chief and scarlet-clad Mountie. Not-yet-Sir Laurence Olivier steals the first part of the show with a French Canadian accent as thick as maple syrup: he's Johnnie The Trapper, a devout Catholic appalled at the inhumanity of the godless Nazis. The film’s greatest interest is in the way it proceeds to complicate such preconceptions, establishing the humanity (even religious faith) of several of the German soldiers while vilifying Hitlerism. In the most celebrated and stirring episode, the soldiers take refuge in what they expect will be a sympathetic German farming community, only to be confronted with the Hutterite’s scorn for Nazi ideology: the communal, pacifist way of life stands as an appealing contrast to the Fuhrer’s gospel of coercion, not only for the audience but for one of the fleeing soldiers.
WITNESS, WE’RE NO ANGELS, BROTHER ORCHID
Criterion DVD available at Videomatica