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Monday, March 24, 2014

THE SILVER FLEET (1943)

It’s a surprise to find the iconic target logo of The Archers on a film not Written & Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger of RED SHOES/’48 fame. But this rousing whisper of a WWII pic finds them producing for yet another writing/directing team, Vernon Sewell & Gordon Wellesley. Contemporarily set in Nazi Occupied Holland, this emotionally clipped counterfeit traitor story follows shipyard owner/operator Ralph Richardson who plays Quisling for the Germans (taking it on the chin from the locals for doing so) while secretly reviving the spirit of Holland’s legendary national hero Piet Hein with various hidden acts of sabotage. The film gets off to a bumpy start, Sewell & Wellesley seem to be learning how to direct on the job, but they pull themselves together with the help of Archers talent like lenser Erwin Hillier and, especially, designer Alfred Junge. (A big set piece in the third act where a formal dinner party is raided by soldiers is quite imaginatively handled.) In any event, the story turns deeply satisfying while the level of acting goes thru the roof. Googie Withers & young Willem Akkerman are all the more effective for being so restrained as Richardson’s unquestioningly supportive wife & son; quite in opposition to the scenery-chewing Nazi crew led by Esmond Knight’s food slurping villain. But, naturally, the film belongs to Ralph Richardson who moves from strength to strength as silently as a cat, gleaning every bit of warmth, humor & courage off the page and onto the screen without giving his hand away. It’s the work of a master, far too subtle to join the award-worthy throng. (NOTE: The image on VCI’s DVD looks both over-processed & over-exposed, but is the only one out there.)

DOUBLE-BILL: One of the best WWII counterfeit traitor pics is . . . (wait for it) . . . THE COUNTERFEIT TRAITOR/’62 with solid perfs from William Holden & Lilli Palmer and pacey megging from . . . (wait for it) . . . George Seaton.

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