Posts Tagged ‘Michael Powell’

My Classic Movie Pick: 49th Parallel for the O Canada Blogathon

When I learned that Speakeasy and Silver Screenings, two classic movie bloggers I enjoy reading, decided to host a blogathon honoring Canada, our kindly neighbor to the North, and its contributions to the film industry,  I jumped at the chance to participate.  Be sure to visit these two bloggers’  sites to read other fantastic pieces  about Canada and her film industry contributions through the years.

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After seeing some films made by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger,  a British director and screenwriter/producer respectively, and being very impressed with their work, I decided to seek out more of their films to view;  their greatest amount of film work was in the 1940s-1950s.  In 1940,  Powell and Pressburger were  asked by the British government to make a propaganda film to help Britain’s war efforts and the suggestion was to make a film about mine sweepers.  Powell said he’d rather make a propaganda film that would wake up America from it’s neutrality.  Pressburger took Powell’s idea and came up with the screenplay;  a propaganda film that would scare the Americans and wake them up to the dangers of Nazi Germany being on their doorstep.  The  film idea was approved by both the British and Canadian governments and the film was shot on location, in Canada.

49th Parallel opening shot

49th Parallel refers first to the boundary that separates Canada and the United States and the film opens with a large map of the North American Continent, zeroing in on this boundary, showing how far to the West and then how far to the  East it stretches, a boundary between two friendly countries.   After the short geography lesson,  the movie jumps right into its plot and the story moves along fast, with lovely views of the Canadian lands in all of their vast differences.

U-boat 37, with it’s German crew, has been successfully sinking  trading ships in Hudson Bay.  After one  encounter with the surviving crew of a recently sunken ship,  the U-boat commander calls up 6 of his crew and tells them that they’ve been selected to be a raiding party, get to the shore, find supplies and information, kill if they have to.  After the 6 have made it to shore, they watch in horror, amid the cheers of the surviving crew in a lifeboat, as  Royal Canadian Air Force planes arrive on the scene, to rescue the crew, and to bomb  U-boat 37.  The 6 men are: Lieutenant Hirth(Eric Portman), Kuhnecke(Raymond Lowell), Vogel(Niall MacGinnis),Krantz(Peter Moore), Lohrman(John Chandos), and Jahner(Basil Appleby).   Their leader, Lieutenant Hirth, decides that they must make their way across Canada, to evade capture, and then make their way into the neutral United States and ask to be taken to the nearest German Embassy.

A lifeboat with surviving crew members of the latest trading ship the U-boat sunk

A lifeboat with surviving crew members of the latest trading ship the U-boat sunk

Eric Portman as Lt. Hirth, leader of the 6 men

Eric Portman as Lt. Hirth, leader of the 6 men

The 6 receiving their orders

The 6 receiving their orders

U-boat 37 is destroyed

U-boat 37 is destroyed

 

The 6  begin their trek and they encounter different groups of Canadians in  different parts of the vast country.  The first group they savagely take advantage of are three men at a fur trading post: Factor(agent for the fur company-Finlay Currie), Nick, the Eskimo cook  and handyman(Ley On), and Johnny, the French Canadian trapper(Laurence Olivier).   Tensions rise as the 6 Germans brusquely demand food, weapons, ammunition, and money.  Nick is cruelly bludgeoned by a rifle butt and is left on the floor to bleed, Factor and Johnny prevented from helping him.   Lt. Hirth states  incredibly racist comments about the Eskimos and American Blacks, which he says he read in Mein Kampf.  At one point, Johnny, exasperated by all of the info from Mein Kampf, pointedly states that though he and his two friends are from different ethnic groups they are all Canadians!  More violence erupts during a radio chess game that occurs nightly between Factor and a friend in Michigan, as Johnny takes a chance and yells for help that the 6 escaped U-boat men are holding them hostage.  Vogel shows a sign of human compassion when he gets Johnny his requested rosary to hold as he lays on a bed suffering from a gunshot wound.  Lt. Hirth had earlier refused to get the rosary and shares his strong atheist view that there is no God.  It is a telling sign that Vogel defies his superior officer by getting that rosary.   More deaths occur in the morning as the 6 Germans hijack a supply plane but as they escape into the air, Jahner is shot in the back by an Eskimo.  After flying for several hours, the plane is out of fuel and crashes into a lake below.  The men make it to shore, but Kuhnecke, who had piloted the plane, dies of a sudden heart attack.  Now the group of 6 has shrunk to 4 men.

"I'm Canadian, he Canadian, and he Canadian!"

“I’m Canadian, he Canadian, and he Canadian!”

Johnyy trying to tell Hirth that the Nazis are wrong

Johnny trying to tell Lt. Hirth that the Nazis are wrong

After trudging along a road heading west, with vast fields of wheat on both sides of them, the 4 Germans presently see a barn in the distance.  Vogel, Krantz, and Lohrman  notice a blonde girl working in the farmyard as they get closer.  Lt. Hirth directs Vogel to talk to the girl, Anna,(a very young Glynis Johns) and he discovers that they are in a commune, a Hutterite Community.  The Hutterites are a religious group that evolved from the same religious reformation that the Ammish and Mennonites came from in the 1500s.  The Hutterites came from Austria, before moving to Russia and then on to Canada and the Northern Great Plains of the United States.  You can read more about them here.    Lt. Hirth finds their communal way of life utterly ridiculous, as well as their religious beliefs but since Hutterites are descended from Germans, and they speak, read, and write German, he decides at an evening meeting to stir these people up and invite them to unite with he and his 4 men, to join the Reich and add to the great Aryan race.   The Hutterite leader, Peter(Anton Walbrook) begins a quiet rebuttal of all things Nazi.  It is a masterful scene of good acting, with a quiet yet strong voice that gets louder and more forceful as he lets Hirth know that there is no way the Hutterites would ever join the madness of the Nazi party.  Anna has developed a bit of a crush on Vogel, and the news that he is a Nazi greatly upsets her.  Vogel, who was a baker  in Germany before the war, critiques the new Hutterite baker’s work and shows him how to make better bread.  Vogel seeks out Peter and tells him that he is tired of the war and wants out.  He tells Peter that he’ll turn himself in to the local law enforcement.  Peter tells him that that will mean time in an internment camp but Vogel is ready to accept that if afterwards he can come back to the Hutterites and join their community.  Lt. Hirth discovers Vogel’s plans and puts a stop to it.  Now the group of U-boaters is only 3.

Peter becoming more forceful with his rebuttal

Peter becoming more forceful with his rebuttal

The begining of Peter's speech to Lt. Hirth

The begining of Peter’s speech to Lt. Hirth

Peter trying to ease Anna's fears about the Nazis in their midst

Peter trying to ease Anna’s fears about the Nazis in their midst

Vogel telling Peter he wants to quit the Nazis and join the Hutterites

Vogel telling Peter he wants to quit the Nazis and join the Hutterites

The 3 Germans keep walking west on long roads and run into a motorist who needs help changing a flat tire.  After knocking the man out and stealing his car, they make their way to Winnipeg and  a train station, and wind up at a major stop with all of the other train riders who get off to  attend a “National Gathering of Tribes”.  The helpful conductor tells Lt. Hirth that it is an interesting event and not one to miss.   Hirth, Lohrman, and Krantz reluctantly get off the train and split up, trying to blend in with the crowd.  Suddenly, a Canadian Mountie makes a special announcement. He tells the crowd(who hush immediately at his request-so polite!) that 3 of the U-boat escapees are thought to be in their area of Canada and could be in the crowd at this moment!  He gives out their descriptions, and mentions that one is holding a package wrapped in oilcloth.  He encourages all in the crowd to look at all of the people standing near them and a man recognizes Lohrman due to that package!  Lohrman tries to run but  is caught and arrested by the Mounties and taken away.  Now there are only 2 U-boaters.

A mountie and the crowd at the National Tribes event

A mountie and the crowd at the National Tribes event.  Lt, Hirth is in the dark hat, looking right at the Mountie!

Vancouver is the destination Hirth wants he and Krantz to head for.  Since they ran when Lohrman was arrested, they are soon lost in the woods near the Canadian Rocky Mountains.  Luckily for them, they meet British author Philip Armstrong Scott, who happens to be camping nearby and has lots of supplies, horses, and several guides with him.  His kindness and love of the arts  is rejected by Lt. Hirth as the signs of a wimpy, weak man.  As Hirth and Krantz destroy Scott’s writings and other belongings, they tie Scott up, gag him, and try to steal the horses. This is a bad idea as the horses and their noises alert the guides to find out what’s happening and they rescue Scott.  Lt. Hirth and Krantz flee and go in different directions.   The guides and Scott march into the woods and soon find Krantz and Scott gets some nice revenge.  Now Hirth is on his own to try and get to Vancouver.

Being rude to Scott

Being rude to Scott

Tying up Scott

Tying up Scott

Lt. Hirth and Krantz lost in the Canadian Rockies

Lt. Hirth and Krantz lost in the Canadian Rockies

Hirth is next shown on a plane, flying east.   We next see him hiding in a boxcar in Ontario, as  Canadian soldier, Andy Brock(Raymond Massey), who is absent without permission,  is being allowed to ride in the box car on his way back to his base.  Hirth is discovered by Andy and as Andy realizes Hirth is one of the U-boat Nazis, a scuffle happens between the two and Hirth knocks Andy out.  When Andy recovers his consciousness, he finds Hirth  wearing his uniform and  holding a gun on him.  The boxcar is soon examined by Canadian Customs Agents before it is sent over the border at Niagara Falls into the US.  Hirth’s gun keeps Brock quiet during the check.   When the box car reaches the US Custom Agents,  Hirth hands his gun over and  demands to be  taken  to the German Embassy.  The Customs Officials are flummoxed as they realize that  Hirth is from that U-boat, but not to fear!  Brock  comes up with a brilliant plan.  He points out that he and Hirth are locked in a freight hold box car and that they aren’t on the manifest.  Therefore, their freight car must be sent back to Canada to get the manifest corrected.  The Customs Officials agree and as Hirth shouts at them to send him to the German Embassy, Andy Brock rolls up his sleeves in order to prepare for his punishment of Hirth.

Lt. Hirth forcing Brock to keep quiet

Lt. Hirth forcing Brock to keep quiet

I like this film for it’s views of Canada.  Skeets Kelly and Henry Henter-Creer shot the film and they made the most of showing the wintry land around Hudson Bay, the vast prairies of Manitoba, and grandeur of the Canadian Rockies, the various lakes, and the nightlife businesses of Winnipeg, circa 1940.

I like this film for the fast-paced storyline. It doesn’t wander much from the goal of Lieutenant Hirth and it was no surprise to me when I found out that future movie director David Lean edited this film.

I also cheered when I watched the credits and saw that the music was conducted by Muir Mathieson and performed by the London Symphony.  Mathieson was a talented musician in his own right and was responsible for the music in many wonderful films.

I liked this film, of course, for the actors and Ms. Johns.  Eric Portman is superb as the icy, chillingly evil Lieutenant Hirth.  He believes in Nazism, in Hitler, hates God and all who believe in Him.  There is a funny scene at Philip Armstrong Scott’s camp where Hirth and Krantz can take a shower.  It’s an outdoor shower, but nicely set up with hot water and cold water, in separate buckets, with pull ropes on each bucket. Krantz wisely pulls on both buckets to get warm water for his rinsing off but Hirth scoffs at him and states he’ll only use cold water and despite his stoic toughness act, he lets out a shriek due to the coldness of the water.

Laurence Olivier, as Johnny the French Canadian trapper, gets top billing in this movie, as evidenced by some of the movie posters I saw when researching the movie. Some critics  made fun of his attempt to sound French Canadian, but I’m not an expert on that accent so I can’t judge if his effort was truly bad or not.  His performance is sincere and  touching.

Niall MacGuinnis  is good as Vogel.  He is physically the largest of the 6 man crew, and at first one assumes he is going to be the somewhat slow, dim, but loyal member of the group.  We start to see his character’s doubts about the war and Nazism when he gets Johnny’s rosary, when he folds his hands in prayer after Kuhnecke’s death by heart attack despite getting a hateful glare from Lt. Hirth, and the full change happens to him at the Hutterite Community.

Anton Walbrook, who was Austrian in real life, fled Hitler’s Germany in the 1930s and headed to England.  His speech against Nazism is really from his heart and it shines through on the film.  By his request to Powell and Pressburger, half of Walbrook’s fee for doing the film was given to the International Red Cross and his costars, Olivier, Leslie Howard, and Raymond Massey all agreed to work for half of what they would normally have been paid since they felt it was an important film to make, to help get America into the war.

Leslie Howard is great as the British writer of books about Native American tribes.  He is so consumed with his work he doesn’t pay much attention to  news or world events and this air of obliviousness causes Hirth and Krantz to underestimate him as a weakling.  It is a tense, yet satisfying scene as author Scott  and his guides track Krantz’s hiding spot in a cave and despite Krantz firing shots at Scott, who is unarmed,  Scott calmly approaches the cave, counts off the shots fired, and despite  getting hit in the leg, manages to grab Krantz and beat the daylights out of him, amazing his guides!

I was able to view 49th Parallel via my Roku box and Amazon Prime.  The film is shown periodically on Turner Classic Movies and it is available through their TCM Shop, a Criterion Collection dvd.  It is also available for sale through Amazon, or view it through their instant rent program.  Also, some kind soul has put the entire film up on Youtube.

Lastly, one of the movie posters used to advertise this movie was somewhat misleading and a bit funny, to me.  One poster showed Oliver, Howard, and Massey looking muscle-bound, walking at an upward, front-facing angle, ready to use their physical might to take on the evildoers.  In real life, muscle-bound isn’t the word or image that comes to my mind when I think of Leslie Howard, Laurence Oliver, or Raymond Massey!  Plus, this poster shows Olivier carrying Glynis Johns in his arms, saving her from something.  In the film, their characters never meet!  The other movie poster used  was a bit more subdued.

Please find 49th Parallel and discover a gem of a film, a love letter to Canada, it’s land and it’s people.

The wacky movie poster!

The wacky movie poster!

The better movie poster

The better movie poster

 

My Classic Movie Pick: I Know Where I’m Going!

Decisions, decisions, decisions.  We all have to make them and they can be tricky, especially when a decision needs to be made and your head tells you one way you should go and your heart tells you another way.  Such a dilemma!  That is exactly the dilemma our heroine faces in the lovely romance film from Britain, 1945’s I Know Where I’m Going!I Know Where I'm Going

The movie opens with a montage of a little toddler girl, Joan Webster,  propelling herself around a living room in her family home.   Then we see Joan at age a 5, writing a bossy letter to Father Christmas informing him she wants silk stockings for Christmas!  Next,  we see  12 year old Joan with her stockings on and rushing across the street to get a ride home from the milkman instead of milling around the schoolyard with  her classmates.   Then we see Joan at 18, leaving work and getting her date to take her to a fancy restaurant instead of the movies.  At the end of this montage we see  Joan’s legs, stylishly dressed in silk stockings and heels, entering  a hotel lobby/restaurant.  Joan Webster(played by Wendy Hiller)  is the main focus of the movie’s plot.  Joan is a determined personality, she always “knows where she is going” and she so far has lived her life by that motto.  She graduated from school and has become an independent career woman.   The career has taken her into the stratosphere of business and before long she finds herself engaged to the owner of Consolidated Chemical Industries, Sir Robert Bellinger, one of the wealthiest men in England.  At the hotel Joan meets with her dad and over dinner informs him that she will be marrying Sir Robert the next day on the Isle of Kiloran, one of the Hebrides islands off the coast of Scotland.  Joan’s father is surprised and does comment that Sir Robert is the same age as himself, but that doesn’t seem to bother Joan.  Before she departs for the train station and her train to Scotland, she reminds her dad not to worry because she knows where she is going!

Joan telling her dad her plans to marry Sir Robert.

Joan telling her dad her plans to marry Sir Robert.

Next is a montage of dreams Joan has about her marriage to Consolidated Chemical Industries, interspersed with strange scenes of traveling to Scotland by train.  After Joan has traveled as far as she can travel in Scotland by train, she transfers to a bus and on that crowded bus she notices a handsome Naval Officer, Torquil MacNeil(Roger Livesey).   Joan and Officer MacNeil both exit the bus near the dock area of the village of Mull.  Joan asks a nearby boat captain if she can get a ride to Kiloran which one can see out in the distance from Mull’s docks.  The captain, Ruairidh Mhor(played by Finlay Curie), tells Joan that the weather is too fierce and no boats will be traveling to Kiloran until the next day, if the weather is better.  Joan is disappointed at this hindrance in her journey to the altar, and she reluctantly agrees to Officer MacNeil’s plan: that they stay overnight at his good friend Catriona’s(played by Pamela Brown) home.  At Catriona’s home, Joan is introduced to Colonel Barnstaple(C.W.R. Knight) a friend of Catriona’s, who is also staying at her home.  As Catriona and the Colonel fix dinner, Joan is delighted to notice a map of Kiloran on the wall and Officer MacNeil is able to tell Joan a lot of information about the island.  Later that night, as Joan is turning in, she has a short encounter with Officer MacNeil, who congratulates her on her upcoming wedding when she tells him about it, and he reminds Joan to count the beams on her ceiling and then pray a prayer so her wish can come true.  Joan prays for good weather so she can sail to Kiloran in the morning.  In the morning, as fast as she can, Joan readies herself for a trip to the docks and finds out that despite a sunny day, the gales are too strong for any boats to go out.  With Officer MacNeil’s help, they make arrangements to stay at a local hotel and decide to walk to the nearest coastal radio station  so Joan can place a call to Kiloran and talk to Sir Robert.  On the walk to the radio site, Joan and Officer MacNeil pass Moy Castle.  Joan has been reading up on the Hebrides and the area around them and knows that there is a curse on Moy Castle, a curse for the Lairds of Kiloran.  (Laird is Scottish for Lord and bestowed on the landowners of the Isle of Kiloran.)  Joan is eager to explore the castle, but Officer MacNeil refuses to go inside.  After Joan has explored Moy Castle, she emerges and begins to tease Officer MacNeil for being “chicken” and not wanting to explore and it is then that Officer MacNeil reveals that he is the current Laird of Kiloran and that despite what Joan may think, he has a healthy respect for this curse and he won’t step foot into that castle!

Joan praying for good weather.

Joan praying for good weather.

Studying the map of Kiloran.

Studying the map of Kiloran.

As the weather continues to misbehave, Joan and Officer MacNeil keep getting thrown together: she is invited to a tea held by some distant friends in the area and guess who is also a guest?  Officer MacNeil.  The Laird  is  invited to attend the 60th Wedding Anniversary of a local couple, Mr. and Mrs. Campbell, and he invites Joan to attend with him.  We can tell that Officer MacNeil is growing fond of Joan, but being that she is engaged to another man, he doesn’t want to do anything to disrupt that part of Joan’s life.  At the anniversary party, a certain song is played, “The Nut-Brown Maid “.  Officer MacNeil explains the song to Joan, as it is one of his favorites, and when he gets to the lyric that the Nut-Brown Maid is the maid for him, he gives Joan such an intense look that she realizes that the Laird has fallen in love with her.  It is at this point that a son of the Campbell’s(John Laurie) thanks the Laird for coming and encourages him and his guest to dance, which Joan reluctantly agrees to.  After the party is over, Joan practically runs to her hotel room to not to  have to be near Officer MacNeil.  Joan realizes that she has a growing attraction and interest in Officer MacNeil, but this will destroy her plan of marrying Sir Robert.  What  a dilemma she finds herself in!

Love has struck!

Love has struck!

In her desperation to be on Kiloran and get her marriage to wealthy Sir Robert over with, Joan sneakily asks a younger sailor, Kenny(Murdo Morrison) to take her  and that she will pay him handsomely and then he will have the funds to marry his sweetheart, Bridie(Margot Fitzsimmons).    Kenny agrees but right before he and Joan can take off in the motorboat, Officer MacNeil jumps aboard.  He has found out Joan’s hairbrained plan, as the weather is really bad, and he scolds her for using her access to money to bribe Kenny into taking her.  Joan informs him quite angrily that she doesn’t care, she has to get to Kiloran and that causes Officer MacNeil to insist on motoring the boat.  The trip proves treacherous, the waves are high, a storm is upon them, and the engine gets flooded.  Added to this danger is the fact that they are being drawn ever closer to the Corryvreckan whirlpool which could mean death for all three of them.  Officer MacNeil manages to get the motorboat engine repaired in the nick of time and they sail back to the docks of Mull.  Joan stomps off to her hotel room, refusing to speak to Officer MacNeil.

The dangerous boat trip to Kiloran.

The dangerous boat trip to Kiloran.

The next day dawns with sunny skies, low breezes, and the bay very calm.  This is it, the day to sail to Kiloran and finally marry Sir Robert.  Joan is preparing to walk to the docks, her luggage has already been put onto the boat.  She meets Officer MacNeil one last time outdoors, on the path that leads to the docks.  He graciously wishes her well in her future life, and she thanks him.  Then Joan asks Officer MacNeil for one favor before she departs.  He asks what is it and she asks him to kiss her.  He gives her quite a kiss, and then she tells him good-bye.  Officer MacNeil is off on his walk and happens to pass by Moy Castle.  He decides that to be afraid of a centuries old curse is silly and he decides to explore the castle.  As we see him in the castle, a voice of a woman intones the curse of the Lairds of Kiloran.  Due to a long ago Laird catching his wife in an adulterous affair with another man, he had the wife and her lover bound together with chains and placed in the water-filled dungeon of the castle with only a stone for them to stand upon when the tide would rise.  Eventually, their strength waning, the lovers fell into the water and drowned.  The Laird and all of the male Laird descendants were cursed by the wife right before her death, that if a Laird walked into Moy Castle, he would be chained to a woman for the rest of his days.   When Officer MacNeil gets to the battlements of the castle, he hears bagpipers in the distance and then sees them approaching.  They are playing his favorite song, ” The Nut-Brown Maid” and marching right behind them is Joan!  She waves to him and runs to the castle and he rushes down to the entrance to greet her with an embrace.  Such a happy ending!

Various scenes from the movie.

Various scenes from the movie.

The Laird exploring the castle and ignoring the curse.

The Laird exploring the castle and ignoring the curse.

I happened to stumble upon this film 5 years ago when it aired on Turner Classic Movies.  It left me in awe, not only the beautiful cinematographer’s shots of Scotland, but the strong plot, the  wonderful acting, it all  left me wondering why can’t Hollywood make as many good movies like this one anymore?  Even famed American director Martin Scorsese has  declared this film one of his favorites!   I Know Where I’m Going! was written and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, the creative British movie magic makers at The Archers, their production company.  The movie was a large box office hit in Great Britain.   It is available to rent via Netflix, via Amazon’s instant rent it section or for purchase, and it does appear on Turner Classic Movies from time to time, and someone has put parts of it up on Youtube.  Don’t miss this wonderful romance film!  It is a movie that I don’t mind watching over and over again.  Cover for IKWIG

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