Posts Tagged ‘Anton Walbrook’

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

 

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The Archers Blogathon: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

Cover of "Life & Death of Colonel Blimp (...

Cover via Amazon

Roger Livesey

Roger Livesey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was glad when I discovered that Classic Film and TV Cafe would be hosting a blogathon about The Archers production company and their films.  Why am I such a fan of films that were made years before I was born?  Films made in another country too?  It comes down to several reasons: great stories told well, actors and actresses at the top of their form,  skilled  technicians who were also true artists at their tasks.  The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp was the second film made by The Archers and it meets my criteria for a wonderful film watching experience.

The film tells the story of Colonel Clive Wynne-Candy, from 1902 after the Boer War, 1918 after World War I, and  in 1939 at the start of World War II.  Colonel Wynne- Candy is brilliantly played by actor Roger Livesey.  It was his 20th film, but the first time he had the leading role.  His effort to show Colonel Wynne- Candy as an old-fashioned soldier, not bending with the times, but not a bombastic fool, was very well done, and it helped allay the fears that Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his Secretary of War James Grigg had about the film.  I will reveal more about their threat to the film’s production later.  Austrian actor Anton Walbrook was chosen to play German Army Officer Theodor Kretchmar-Schuldorff.  His character was a “good” German, who was against the Nazis and all that they wanted to accomplish.  This character also rang the alarm bells for Mr. Churchill and Mr. Grigg and more about this later!  Deborah Kerr had the female lead in only her 6th film.  She was 21 at the time of production and she had to portray 3 different female leads in this one film.   She played Edith Hunter, a love interest for both Livesey and Walbrook’s characters, then she played Barbara Wynne, a new love interest for Livesey’s Colonel, and finally Kerr played Angela “Johnny” Cannon, the retired Colonel Wynne-Candy’s driver.

Anton Walbrook

Anton Walbrook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The film is primarily a flashback and it gets to the flashback in a delightfully creative way.  Deborah Kerr, at the film’s beginning, is  Angela “Johnny” Cannon, personal driver for retired Colonel Clive Wynne- Candy.  She is dating a brash, young lieutenant, Spud Wilson, who is bored at his base, waiting for a practice military operation to begin at midnight.  Retired  Colonel Wynne- Candy, working for the Home Guard,  has devised the operation and decided it should begin at midnight; the phrase,”War starts at midnight!” is uttered quite a bit in the film’s beginning.  Lieutenant Wilson decides to turn the tables on old Colonel Wynne- Candy.   He decides to take  his men to London to capture the old Colonel at his Gentleman’s Club, thus ignoring the way the practice operation was to go down.    Angela realizes what her boyfriend is about to do, and she rushes  to London to try and  warn the Colonel, as she knows that the purposeful ruining of his plan will upset him greatly.  Lieutenant Wilson and his men are filmed in an exciting dash to London,  set to jazzy, big band music, chasing after Angela in her vehicle.  The younger men succeed in capturing the Colonel  at the club.  As Lieutenant  Wilson and Colonel Wynne-  Candy have words by the club’s pool, the angry Colonel grabs Lieutenant  Wilson, scolds him for his rude dismissal of the elderly, throws the lieutenant into the pool, jumps in after him, pummels him all the while grousing about young pups, and then  Colonel Wynne-Candy ducks under the water, the camera tracking to the far end of the pool, and out of that end of the pool,  emerges Colonel Clive Candy, as a young Army Officer, fresh off of winning the Victoria Cross in the Boer War for gallantry.  I found that unique pool scene, the  way to introduce the flashback, as so creative and inventive the first time I saw the film.

 

The film moves on to 1902, after the Boer War.  Colonel Candy meets Edith Hunter(Kerr), meets Theodor Kretschmar-Schuldorff who he has a duel with.   They  manage to become great friends with Candy calling the German Officer Theo the remainder of the film.  Candy loses Edith to Theo, just as he was realizing that he loves her. Being the  honorable British Officer, he doesn’t try to ruin his new friend’s love for Edith.  Time marches on and the second part of the movie happens with the end of World War I.  Colonel Candy has met a group of nurses who were serving the soldiers during the war’s end, and one of the nurses, a Miss Barbara Wynne(Kerr) catches his eye because she reminds him of Edith.  Despite a 20 year gap in their ages, Colonel Candy successfully woos and weds Miss Wynne.  No children are born to their union, but their love for one another is evident.  As the war is now over, Colonel Wynne-Candy finds out his old friend Theo is in a POW camp near London.  Colonel Wynne-Candy goes to the camp to see his old friend, who is surrounded by other POWs when the Colonel finds him.  It is an interesting scene, as Theo is decidedly cold and unmoved towards his old friend, rebuffing the outstretched hand that is offered to him.  The friendship is renewed soon afterwards, and Theo apologizes for his rudeness.   Time marches on once more and now the film is at 1939, and World War II has begun in earnest.  Barbara is  deceased and the Colonel is alone.   Theo is being interviewed by immigation officials as he wants to live in England and not go back to Germany.  He sadly explains that his English wife, Edith, is deceased and that their two children are good Nazis who will have nothing to do with their father.  Colonel Wynne-Candy arrives at the immigration office in time to save Theo from being sent to an internment camp.  The good Colonel has by now retired, yet still wants to serve his country in some capacity.  The War Office asks the Colonel to give a speech about the retreat at Dunkirk, and his planned speech isn’t thought well of by the War Office so the BBC contacts the Colonel to tell him his speech won’t be aired.  Theo asks to read the speech and in a moving scene, he strongly urges his old friend to realize that the Nazis will stop at nothing to rule the world and to make it over in their desired fashion and that Britain must stop them with all means possible.  In a lighter moment, Theo notices that Angela, the driver, resembles Barbara, the Colonel’s late wife, and yes, Colonel Wynne-Candy admits to Theo that he also loved Edith, but wasn’t about to take her from Theo, and that he does like having Angela around as she reminds him of Edith and Barbara.  The film ends with the elderly Colonel sitting on a park bench across the street from his home, which has been bombed in the Blitz.  At his old home’s site is now an emergency water cistern.  He remembers Barbara telling him to never change, and he replied to her not ever would he change, unless their house would become a lake.  He says aloud to Barbara’s memory that the house is now a lake, and yet he’s not changed.  At that moment Theo and Angela join him as a new guard of soldiers is marching down the street to the strains of a military march and they salute the old Colonel as he salutes them passing by.

 

As I hinted at earlier, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his Secretary of War, James Grigg, were not happy about this film going into production.  The title, mentioning Colonel Blimp, was the trigger that got their dander up.  Colonel Blimp was a British politcal cartoon, depicting a bombastic, rotund, bald, retired British Army Officer, often depicted at his club in the sauna room, wearing a large towel, pontificating about social and political issues of the day.  The cartoon Colonel Blimp was often contradicting himself in his speeches, and was quite the foolish character.  Grigg, in a memo, wrote to Churchill that a movie about Blimp could put the British military in a bad light just as they were in the middle of a war and needed all of the public’s support.  The second trigger that worried Churchill and Grigg was the “good” German in the film.  Britain was at war with Germany, how could their be a “good” German in this film?  The film began production in the winter of 1943 and The Archers were told that no British military advisors would be loaned to them, nor any military equipment.  Fortunately, the Canadian military stationed near London, had no problems with loaning their equipment to The Archers!  In May of 1943, government officials viewed rushes of the film and their fears evaporated.  The film was released to the public that June, and it was a hit.

 

Many film reviewers immediately assumed that the idea for this film did come from the cartoon that incensed Churchill so much, but the idea actually came from David Lean when he was editor for an earlier Powell-Pressburger film, One of our Aircraft is Missing.  Lean had to cut a scene in that film depicting an older crew member chastising a younger crew member for  not knowing what it’s like to get old.  When Lean cut that scene, he told Powell and Pressburger that that scene would make a fine film all on it’s own and that comment from Lean gave them the idea for The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.

 

Powell and Pressburger were proud of this film and rightly so.  They would go on to make two more movies featuring Roger Livesey in prominent roles, I Know Where I’m Going, and A Matter of Life and Death.  Anton Walbrook had already appeared in their film The 49th Parallel, and he would famously star as the ballet impresario Lermontov in their film The Red Shoes.  Deborah Kerr would also later  star as the main nun in another Archer’s masterpiece, The Black Narcissus.

 

Pressburger once said, ” I think that a film should have a good story, a clean story, and it should have if possible, something which is probably the most difficult thing-it should have a little bit of magic…”  To me, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is an excellent example of what Pressburger was defining.

 

Be sure to read the other postings about other outstanding films by The Archers at

 

http://classic-film-tv.blogspot.com/2012/03/tribute-to-archers-powell-pressburger.html

 

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp