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Sunday, September 27, 2009

CONTRABAND / aka: BLACKOUT (1940)


Just before they began working for themselves as ‘The Archers,’ Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger reteamed w/ Conrad Veidt & Valerie Hobson from THE SPY IN BLACK/’39 on a second twisty espionage tale. With its lighter tone & more fantastical plot (the war news was terribly grim in 1940), the film already shows much of the confidence, independence & eccentricities of later Powell/Pressburger pics. Veidt is great as the aggrieved Danish ship’s captain, forced to wait for his sailing papers while spoiled passenger Valerie Hobson sneaks off for a mysterious rendezvous on land. What begins as pursuit soon turns into admiration and shared adventure as these two uncover a spy ring right in the heart of London. Once it gets going, the plot moves at a fast & furious pace, aided by some of Powell’s typically abrupt editing, so precisely timed it can make you LOL. The film is certainly looser than SPY, for better & worse, but it rates awfully high as WWII propaganda entertainments go. And when the patriotic Danes come thru in the clutch & bid Veidt hail & farewell, the quick swell of emotion feels completely earned.

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