49th Parallel (Michael Powell / United Kingdom, 1941):

From Hudson Bay to Niagara Falls, "the curtain rises on Canada." The strangest propaganda piece is what the Ministry of Information gets when it hires Michael Powell, his wartime pamphlet against the New Order is really a discovery of the New World. A Nazi U-boat surfaces in Quebecois waters, herr leutnant (Eric Portman) leads a five-men unit to the shore only to watch the submarine getting blasted by Canuck bombers. The eponymous border into the neutral United States lies at the end of the winding road, along the way there are ideological debates between the stranded crew and oddball star cameos, each an impeccably droll sketch. As a shaggy French trapper, Laurence Olivier enters warbling "Alouette" in a bathtub and cocks an eyebrow at Mein Kampf ("Quelle écriture fun-nee!") in a freewheeling vaudeville turn. Leslie Howard with a Thomas Mann tome in his teepee reveals the serene aesthete's hidden fury, touch his Matisse and he'll stride through a hail of bullets. "Well, well, well. This is a new experience." The airplane plunge into the lake takes after Foreign Correspondent (with consequences for Planet of the Apes), the teenage Glynis Johns pigtailed under her bonnet adduces a note from Grand Illusion. Nazism in the rural Hutterite commune denounced "like the microbes of some filthy disease" in Anton Walbrook's understated roar, still there's room for the tragedy of the German sailor (Niall MacGinnis) who yearns to exchange uniform for baker's apron. Emeric Pressburger screenplay, David Lean editing, Freddie Young location photography, all pulled together by Powell's expansive studies of bravery. Bustling Winnipeg neon, "a regular Montreal concert," Indian Day in Banff with the Mounties. The punchline is democracy's right to grouse, delivered by Raymond Massey sans pants in the back of a train going backwards. "Maybe our sense of humor is different from yours," hence One of Our Aircraft Is Missing. With Finlay Currie, Richard George, Raymond Lovell, Peter Moore, John Chandos, and Basil Appleby. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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