Thursday, March 12, 2009


[aka 2000 WOMEN] The title of this wartime propaganda film refers to British women living in or visiting France who, with the outbreak of World War II, have been stranded there and rounded up in an internment camp in the town of Marville. Though some of the conditions are less than ideal (no heat in the building, communal baths), the camp is set up in a fancy hotel, there are lots of social activities, and there are only two women per huge room, so there are times when I forgot it was essentially a prison and not a summer resort. We follow the fortunes of a handful of women, starting with Patricia Roc, whom we see arrested a few months before the start of the war; she's dressed as a nun but the police suspect she's a German spy and she's thrown in jail; with the German invasion, she's moved to the hotel. We slowly learn more about her as the film progresses and she's essentially the central character, but she's also not terribly interesting. Flora Robson is a rich lady who, when she hears British planes overhead one night, deliberately throws open a window in defiance of the blackout; Muriel Aked is her companion (and possibly her "life partner," though that is only subtly suggested); Jean Kent is a stripper who, as she seems to be romancing a Nazi clerk in order to get favors, may also be an informer. Betty Jardine is officially in charge of making things run smoothly (the Nazis generally allow no men inside except the elderly hotel owner), and Phyllis Calvert is a friendly den-mother figure who takes charge of things when three stranded RAF pilots wind up taking shelter in the hotel.

Where the first half of the film is all about getting to the know the women, their routines, and their relationships, the second half is an extended cat-and-mouse game with the women first hiding the pilots, then plotting their escape. The generally light tone of the film darkens somewhat in the suspenseful last half-hour, with an especially tense scene set at a concert held in the hotel. A whispered message is sent through the female audience that, as the building is being searched, the airmen are hiding in plain sight, in drag, but suddenly we realize that the message will soon be passed on to the one character we know is a Nazi spy. It's a scene worthy of Hitchcock, though unfortunately the later climax, at a talent show with German officers in attendance, is botched with bad timing and underwhelming plotting. The ending is interesting in that, while the women get away with their plot, many of them wind up in a position which will certainly doom them to concentration camps (two characters get sent off to one earlier) or worse. This is where the primary propaganda message, sacrifice for others will be required, is most obvious: the last shot is of all the women singing, "There Will Always Be an England." This rarely-seen film made its TCM debut a few months ago, and I hope it returns soon. [TCM]

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