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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

THE 49TH PARALLEL (1941)


Staggeringly effective WWII thriller from the writing/directing/producing team of Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger follows six survivors from a German U-Boat set aground in Hudson Bay, Canada. Led by a sharp & ruthless Nazi ‘superman’ (Eric Portman), they make their way east in picaresque fashion like one of Hitchcock’s innocent-man-on-the-run pics. Except, no one here is innocent. (Perversely, Hitch would set his Nazi Ubermensch story in ultra-close quarters: LIFEBOAT.) Pressburger structures the film as a series of one-act turns for high caliber actors (Laurence Olivier, Leslie Howard, Raymond Massey), but he’s unable to maintain the emotional pitch of the superb sequence set in a self-contained German religious commune which features standout perfs from Anton Walbrook, Glynis Johns & Niall MacGinnis. Technically, the film trickery is something of a miracle (check out the tech credits, yowsa!), plus a score from Ralph Vaughan Williams. It all beautifully tees off the great Powell/Pressburger/ARCHERS films that followed.

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