Propaganda Without Tears
WHEN a film is talked about as this one has been and become a kind of Gone with the Wind with Mecca (the public) sickening with the long delay, the verdict when at length it is shown may be a trifle cynical.
But this picture fully lives up to expectations and on its intrinsic entertainment value alone, does not disappoint. It is exciting, suspenseful, and logical. Good as Pimpernel Smith was, 49th Parallel is far better in that it does not present the Nazis as uniptelligent people who are easily fooled. its Nazis are people to be reckoned withdeepsdyed fanatics who are passionately resolved to superimpose their mould of thought upon the rest of the world and ready to give up their lives in trying to do so, The crew. of a U-boat, a ruthless, coldly desperate band, try to make their way across Canada to the States and ultimately to the Fatherland (a small obstacle like an interment camp presenting no difficulty). There is, one feels, a cold hostility even among themselves—little cornradeship that the State cannot sabotage at a moment's notice—little loyalty to each other that the
shadow of the Fuehrer cannot dispel. A little after the manner of the Ten Little Nigger Boys they diminish in number one by one until only the hard, petrified Commander is left. Behind them is a trail of robbery. murder, banditry but always there is the beacon-light of the Fatherland and the fanatical gleam of the Fuehrer's eyes to urge them on to further acts cf violence.
1F the film does nothing else. It crystal ' lises the frame of mind of the Nazi youth—the almost physical impossibility in the Nazi mind to see any but their own point of view—the unshakable conviction that their way of life is right and the rest of the world wrong.
It is, then, a case of the Nazis versus the Rest and the film leaves you with the absolute conviction that the Rest will prevail. They may be untidy undrilled, unled by the Fuehrcr, unled even by an Ideal, unless it is the Ideal that lives even in the least worthy of us—which is the ultimate dignity and decency of the human race.
Each " star " in the cast justifies his pre sence there and so do a few lesser astral bodies. Raymond Massey as the Canadian soldier, Leslie Howard as the solitary escapist, Anton Walbrook as the saintly leader of the Hitlerites and Eric Portman as the U.-boat commander—all these and the brilliant supporting cast make 49th Parallel a fiim to see—and to remember.
THERE have been times when Christian 1 has fought Christian and this Russian
film, only shown to the Film Society before now, commemorates one of these occasions. The Teutonic Knights (for whom few of us will hold a brief) fought against' the Russians in the thirteenth century—and Prince Alexander Nevsky who led the Russian Army is now a canonised saint in the Russian Orthodox Church. It is important to remember this if the film is to be seen in its right perspective.
Eisenstein, part-author of the scenario and part-director, is not, of course, a Christian but, Mr. Ivor Montagu who has worked with him in Hollywood and also in Russia assures me that he is a most scrupulous historian and takes good care to get his facts right.
The film was made in 1938—long before
the Russians thought they would be fighting the descendants of the Teutonic Knights— and long before, also, the campaign to tame down somewhat their rather scoffing attitude towards all things religious, had been launched. In view of this, it would enhance the propaganda angle of the film if the shots of crucifixes, crosses wicked-looking monks and arch-fiendish-looking bishops (whom the Teutonie Knights, according to Eisenstein, toured round with them) were drastically cut. The film would lose tittle in dramatic value and would make more friends for Soviet Russia.
The picture as a whole has the best and the worst of the Russian cinema — superb photography; slowness; magnificent scenic shots; spells of tedium; large-scale action; awkward " personal " sequences. The crowd work is superb and the battle scenes cleverly handled.