Sunday, September 17, 2006


A very entertaining "what if" story which was undoubtedly produced as wartime propaganda to prepare the British people in case of German invasion, which was much feared at the time. The film, set in the cozy village of Bramley End, begins with an "Our Town" feel, as a narrator talks directly to the camera and relates the events of the wartime story from a vantage point several years after the war, claiming that government had kept the story under wraps on purpose. We are introduced to the villagers as they go about their lives, with preparations for a weekend wedding taking up most everyone's time. When a group of Army engineers come rolling into town for maneuvers and requisition temporary housing, the villagers are only too happy to accommodate them, and the vicar offers up the church for the bulk of the men. We find out that the men are actually Germans preparing for a parachute invasion; in a long sequence which is not quite Hitchcockian but still quite tense, we wait for the Germans to slip up or for a nosy villager to stumble onto the truth. When their cover is blown, the Nazis round up most of the villagers in the church, letting a few back to their homes, accompanied by soldiers, so the illusion of everyday life can be sustained in case outsiders might breeze into town. The rest of the film follows the resourceful men and women of Bramley End as they attempt to get word to the outside world and fight back against their occupiers. The most remarkable thing about the film is the sudden violence that crops up, and the fact that none of the characters (even the children) is exempt from the possibility of injury or death. An old woman who has been something like comic relief suddenly attacks a soldier with an axe and kills him, and just as suddenly, another soldier enters, sees the dead body, and shoots the woman dead. The violence is not gory, but it is sudden, frequent, and fairly graphic for its time, though all the more effective for not being rendered in close-up in Dolby 5.1 surround sound. This is mostly an ensemble piece, with the only standout (in terms of narrative focus) being Leslie Banks (the crazy hunter in THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME) as a distinguished village squire who is actually a collaborationist. Other familiar faces in the cast include C.V. France as the aged vicar, Basil Sydney as the Nazi in command, David Farrar (the hunk who gets the nuns hot and bothered in BLACK NARCISSUS) as another Nazi, and Mervyn Jones (Bob Cratchit in the Alastair Sim CHRISTMAS CAROL) and Elizabeth Allan (leading lady in MARK OF THE VAMPIRE) as villagers. The film is more artful than much propaganda of the time and remains well worth watching for its low-key documentary-like style, its tension, and its portrayal of everyday people in extraordinary circumstances. [DVD]

No comments: