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Why 49th Parallel is one of the most cunning war films ever made

MMichael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 49th Parallel, the story of six stranded Nazi submarines who fail in their attempt to cross from Canada to the United States in order to gain diplomatic immunity, is possibly the film’s most underrated by filmmakers. Lacking the Technicolor splendor of The Red Shoes, the human emotion of A Matter of Life or Death, or the rich melodrama of Black Narcissus, it is nonetheless a cleverly crafted war drama, complete with soundtrack. exceptional film by Ralph Vaughn Williams and expert cinematography. It also features a star cast including Leslie Howard as a pacifist in the wilds of Canada, Laurence Olivier as a French-Canadian fur trapper and Anton Walbrook as a Hutterite leader.

With the support of the Department of Information, 49th Parallel was designed not only to entertain the public, but also to encourage American viewers to support the United States’ entry into the war. Screenwriter Pressburger had no qualms about making a propaganda film, later saying, “Goebbels considered himself a propaganda expert, but I thought I would show him a thing or two.” It was also no problem for Academy voters, who awarded him the film’s only Oscar for Best Original Feature. Intentions, however, do not always match results. For example, the Belfast New-Letter correspondent said the 49th Parallel left the impression “that the Nazi is a fearless, almost invincible, even ruthless animal – an effect that may not have been exactly what the Ministry of Information! ”It is more difficult to determine whether the public was convinced by the propaganda message.

After its premiere in October 1941, 49th Parallel was screened in theaters across the UK where elaborate marketing campaigns and personal appearances were used to promote the film. Walbrook, for example, visited the Paramount Theater in Glasgow, where 250 Scottish Canadian soldiers and Michael Powell’s mother were also present. Elaborate foyer screens have been installed in cinemas with giant globes, model airplanes and submarines, flags, maps and dioramas. At Morden Odeon, the Headmaster “had a 40 foot banner across the front of the house bearing the name in the photo, and a few hundred British and Empire flags and shields on the canopy, as well as large crates of flowers supporting the stars’ heads cutout.

These campaigns helped draw customers away from home, but the film entered UK cinemas at a time when audiences were growing dramatically and going to the movies was a regular activity providing both entertainment and education to millions of people. British citizens. The deprivations of war further encouraged this habit as admissions rose from 990 million in 1939 to 1.3 billion in 1941, then to a record 1.6 billion in 1946. At the end of 1941, the specialist journal Kinematograph Weekly announced that 49th Parallel had beaten the likes of The Great Dictator and Lady Hamilton to its biggest box office winner of the year. He proudly announced that “the best film of the year is British! This cannot be overstated ”.

Why 49Th Parallel Is One Of The Most Cunning War Films Ever Made - Light Home News

Diary entries collected as part of the Mass Observation social research project show the history of the film and the central theme of international cooperation that resonated with audiences during wartime. One woman, who saw the film at the Pyramide de Sale cinema, said it was “beautiful, brutal in places, but good and natural, and what propaganda”. Jack Lippold claimed it was “the best war movie I have ever seen” and praised the “wonderful shots of the bombing destruction of a U-boat”. DL Medd added that the film was screened five times a day at his local Odeon and reported that at the screening he attended, “there was a lot of applause from the audience.”

The film also stuck with viewers. In 1950, Picture Post asked its readers to list their 10 favorite movies. Marcus Bishop of Hull included 49th Parallel alongside more famous British films such as The 39 Steps, Brief Encounter and Odd Man Out, and Berkhamsted’s Louis Newcombe held in the same vein as The Third Man.

In January 1942, the film premiered simultaneously in 18 Canadian cities. One report suggested that “it is significant that German submarines are now operating off the coast of North America, thereby aligning the film’s fictional story with real events.” In the United States, Columbia paid a record number for distribution rights to a British film, renaming it The Invaders for the American market.

But by the time it premiered in the United States in March 1942, the United States had already entered the war after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. This may have diminished the film’s propaganda value, but it didn’t diminish its entertainment appeal, and distributors focused on its star cast and compelling storyline. At New York’s Capitol Theater, where the US premiere featured transatlantic phone calls from Howard, Olivier and Powell, reports suggested he was as popular as Gone with the Wind. In 1943, the film had taken $ 1.3 million in the US market alone.

It was then broadcast on British television and, following new interest in Powell and Pressburger, was reissued in 1984 by the British Film Institute. Writing in the Monthly Film Bulletin, Tony Rayns cited the film’s basis in travel accounts and acting performances as major weaknesses, but also said that “the film’s lack of complacency in its use of stereotypes and its play with audience identification… make it by far the most interesting British ‘propaganda’ film of the time ”. In his notes for the DVD Criterion 2007 release, Charles Barr also argued for the importance of the film, claiming that it solidified the partnership of Powell and Pressburger, set a bold example in terms of ambition and funding, and offered a clever example of propaganda.

Reference of the Article-post – lwlies