Monday, June 13, 2016


During World War II, British intelligence learns that the Germans are massing a submarine fleet at the coastal town of Norville, a small town in occupied France, and the British military begin planning a commando raid. Security agent Richards (Reginald Tate) is upset by the loose talk he hears and he tries to amp up awareness among the soldiers who will soon be going to Watercombe to launch their attack upon Norville. They basically get a "loose lips sink ships" lecture and are sent on their way. Unfortunately, not everyone gets the message. We see a private named Jimmy go backstage to visit his stripper friend where he innocently lets it slip that his squadron is going to Watercombe on an important mission; he tells her that hoping that she'll meet up with him there, but we discover that she's working with her dresser, known only as Ma, who is actually a Nazi spy, and soon Berlin knows there's something afoot. Germany sends a spy known as Mister Davis and/or Number 23 (Mervyn Johns) who makes contact with a bookseller named Barratt (Stephen Murray) and together they work on figuring out the logistics of the coming British raid. They get help from a young Dutch woman who works at the bookstore by threatening the lives her parents back home; she tries to get information from her boyfriend, a private named Johnny. Number 23 also insinuates himself into the community and picks up tidbits of loose talk here and there. Ultimately, a briefcase containing maps of the raid are stolen by the Nazis, and though the commando raid is successful, many men die because of the security slip-ups.

This British wartime propaganda film is labeled "a military training film" right on its title card, but was released as a full-length feature film, and despite some occasional didactic teaching moments, mostly early on, it is a solid spy film well worth seeing. Though not exactly gritty in its realism, it does have some surprising moments for a 40s movie: there are occasional mild curse words; at one point, Number 23 is seen looking at a photo book with a naked woman boldly displayed on the cover; the stripper is a drug user and her addiction is what keeps her tied to her Nazi spymaster; the final fifteen minutes is mostly composed of well-shot battle scenes which incorporate small bits of actual battlefield footage. Johns (Bob Cratchit in the 1951 Christmas Carol) does a nice job playing against type as the chief bad guy—and somewhat surprisingly, he escapes justice in the end, remaining free to keep eavesdropping on British citizens. The characters can't be said to be well-rounded (see Private Jimmy and Private Johnny), but they are made individual enough so that we can follow their plotlines and have a little something invested in their fates. A little gem of propaganda filmmaking, directed by Thorold Dickinson. [YouTube]

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