Monday, September 29, 2014

Movie of the Week – 49th Parallel

This week’s movie: 49th Parallel (1941)

The year is 1941. The United States is still neutral as war has engulfed the globe. Canada, however, has been fighting with their British and French allies. A German U-boat has been ravaging the waters near Eastern Canada, but the allies are moving in. To stay concealed, the Germans decide to hide in the Hudson Bay – a place where no one would ever look for them. Once there, the captain of the boat sends out a reconnaissance team to look for supplied; however once the team reaches the coast, the U-boat is spotted by Canadian patrol planes and destroyed. Now, the German survivors must make their way through Canada without being discovered.

The film is by brilliant auteurs the Archers (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressbuger). It is one of their earliest projects together, and already showed-off their creative chemistry and the promise of the wonderful work that was to come from them during the 1940s. The film was nominated for Best Picture and Pressburger won an Oscar for his writing. They worked with composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, cinematographer Freddie Young, editor David Lean, and art director David Rawnsley (Young and Lean would later make the brilliant epics Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago together).

The film has an excellent cast (featuring a few actors that worked frequently with the Archers). Eric Portman, Laurence Olivier, Finlay Currie, Anton Walbrook, Leslie Howard, and Raymond Massey star in the film. On a side note, the more I watch Anton Walbrook the more I find that he is becoming one of my favorite actors. He is just incredible.

49th Parallel is a propaganda film, like many of the films made during WWII. It is a film aimed at showcasing the spirit and diversity of the Canadian people, willing to come to the aide of Europe to fight against the Nazis. To this degree, it is an effective film, as it does provide many different characters, all played by great actors. The name of the film comes from the border between the United States and Canada, the largest unprotected border in the world. This is probably not a film for everyone, but for those who enjoy WWII era films or who want to see all the great films that the Archers made (something I do really encourage) it is a good little film. I am always surprised to see Laurence Olivier pop up in it as a French-Canadian trapper. He made this almost right after Rebecca playing almost the polar opposite type of character.

Trailer: Here
Available on: DVD and Video On-Demand (or you can watch the film on YouTube here)

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