Saturday, June 08, 2002


An interesting example of a British WWII propaganada movie, designed largely to make Americans more sympathetic to the idea of fighting the Nazis. It's episodic and a bit long, but mostly quite good, and it also made me think about the team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. I've seen several of their collaborations, such as THE RED SHOES, STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN, LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP, I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING, and BLACK NARCISSUS, and aside from the fact that they all have lovely cinematography, I can't come up with any other connecting threads between the movies. I can see thematic or other stylistic connections in the bodies of work by people like Altman, Kubrick, Hitchcock, Scorsese, and John Ford, but not in Powell and Pressburger's films. Anyone out there have any clues?

In this film, a group of German soldiers is stranded in Canada when their submarine is blasted in Hudson Bay. The movie follows them as they trek through Canada, from an isolated fur-trapping post, to a rural settlement of German Hutterites (a religious sect that seems comparable to the Amish), to Vancouver, to a mountain camp, and finally to a train headed to the U.S. at Niagara Falls. Along the way, there is danger (the number of Germans decreases one by one, through death or capture, at each locale) and much discussion of Nazism, democracy, and freedom. As far as the plot goes, this could have been done as a stage play since the political and philospohical debates seem to be the heart of the film. But the stunning location backgrounds add immensely to the atmosphere and action. Eric Portman, who I just saw recently in CORRIDOR OF MIRRORS, is exceptional as the Nazi soldier who manages to stay on the run until the end. He is commanding, a bit scary, but also occasionally sympathetic; he is a stranger in a strange land who truly does not understand the viewpoints of the Canadians, especially the German Hutterites, who he assumes will be converted easily to Nazism (of course, they aren't, and the debate between Portman and the Hutterite leader, Anton Walbrook, is a high point of the film).

Leslie Howard is good as an effete author doing research on Indian folklore in the mountains, who is moved from indifference to heroic action by Portman. Raymond Massey is a similarly indifferent Canadian soldier who musters up some cleverness to one-up Portman through brains rather than brawn. Glynis Johns has a small part as a young Hutterite (one of the Nazis decides to stay at the settlement, with tragic results). The one truly bad performance comes from Laurence Olivier as a trapper--he wildly overdoes his French-Canadian accent, sounding rather like Terry Jones taunting King Arthur in MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, even though he is surrounded by actors who don't really bother with accents at all (I don't think any of the British actors who play the Nazis even attempt a German accent). The version I saw is the full 2 hour cut, instead of the 104 minute cut released in the states under the title THE INVADERS (and nominated for a best picture Oscar). The movie has its lulls, and its episodic nature makes it a bit predictable, but the scenery is always beautiful and most of the acting is top-drawer.

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