DATELINE: Forgotten Classic Film
Stars together in scene not in movie.
The two creative powerhouses who gave us The Red Shoesand Stairway to Heaven within a decade provided the free world a marvelous morsel called 49thParallel in mid-World War II.
Michael Powell and his film writer Emeric Pressburger chose to give propaganda a shot in the arm. The only real German in the movie, Anton Walbrook, plays a pacifist: Eric Portman, a Brit, is the worst of the Nazi officers.
Perhaps the only war movie set in America where invading Nazi forces have landed at Hudson Bay, the film is a curio and a delight of originality.
The cast is stunning: Leslie Howard, Laurence Olivier, Raymond Massey, and Anton Walbrook, Finlay Currie, with Eric Portman as the Nazi Uboat officer stranded near a far-off trading post after their U-boat is sunk by RAF bombers. The Nazis think they are the first wave of invaders to conquer North America.
It is amusing to see Heathcliffe, Abe Lincoln, and Ashley Wilkes fighting Nazis. This movie gives you these cerebral actors breaking form. The film is done in picaresque style, which is to say, your stars do not have scenes together.
The Nazis are ruthless monsters to the point of hyperbole, your typical propaganda approach of the era. They are their own worst enemies and self-destruction is half the battle.
One by one, the hunted Nazis fall by the wayside, deserting or captured along the way. One of those they meet is a writer, effete and genteel, who is Leslie Howard—of course, and for whom the Nazi has utmost contempt for his “degeneracy.”
Filmed in Western Canada in black and white, you still feel the majesty of the setting among the grand forests and stunning mountains that dwarf the Nazi menace.
If the final Nazi, celebrated in Germany on radio, can make it to the neutral United States in 1941, he can be repatriated to Germany. His final encounter is with a boxcar rider named Raymond Massey.
By the way, the young teenage girl at the commune is Glynis Johns.