Odette (1950)

“In her own words, Odette was a very ordinary woman.”

Synopsis:
During World War II, French-born Odette Sansom (Anna Neagle) volunteers for the British resistance movement in France, and meets fellow spy Peter Churchill (Trevor Howard).

Genres:

Review:
Made just five years after her release from Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, this biopic of famed British spy Odette Sansom suffers from an overly pedantic and adulatory approach to its subject matter. While Sansom is certainly deserving of the highest praise for her sacrifice (which included enduring heinous torture by the Gestapo), her story as told here lacks punch; the first half is especially slow and confusing. Perhaps most disturbing, however, is Neagle’s faux French accent, which is less than convincing — indeed, the issue of language in general is handled clumsily in the film, with an occasional (distracting) “A bien tot” or “Ja voll, Herr Kommandant” thrown into the middle of the primarily English dialogue. Performances by the supporting cast are perfunctory at best; notable exceptions are Trevor Howard and Peter Ustinov as Sansom’s compatriots.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Trevor Howard as Peter Churchill
  • Peter Ustinov as Arno
  • The powerful (mercifully oblique) torture scenes

Must See?
No. This film will primarily be of interest to WWII history buffs.

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3 Responses to “Odette (1950)”

  1. First viewing. A once-must for its place in historical cinema and as a well-made British film of note.

    This is one of those rare instances in which (alas) I strongly disagree with the assessment given. I found this film riveting from start to finish – as well as tense almost from the get-go (as viewers are likely to be in constant concern re: the heroine’s safety). I was particularly taken with the film’s strict economy in its mostly-short scenes, and did not find the script’s progression at all confusing. Re: the use of foreign languages… I started to wonder if I was watching a different print (one that might have been completely free of dubbed-in English?): there are frequent scenes in which French and German are used somewhat extensively – and without subtitles, since the context seemed more or less obvious anyway. (Wikipedia contains interesting background info. NY Times critic Bosley Crowther says some snarky things which, frankly, aren’t true.) All told, strongly recommended.

    As per my post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    [“Why? Are they *so* afraid of God?”

    ‘Odette’ (1950; complete here in one clip): I’m sort-of obsessed with WWII films; this is one I hadn’t seen. It also appears to be one that itself is obsessed with being as close to the facts as possible. It’s the story of Odette Sansom – an “ordinary woman” who became a British spy in the aid of the French Resistance. Col. Maurice Buckmaster – who appears as himself near the end – is seen in an introductory clip to attest to the film’s veracity. As well, at the film’s conclusion, there is a short written message from Sansom which backs up the fact (though this isn’t stated) that she chose to not have the film made in Hollywood – as that might have compromised the truth. Anna Neagle stars as Sansom; her husband Herbert Wilcox directed. Neagle (who is marvelous) is very well supported by Trevor Howard, Peter Ustinov and a particularly menacing Marius Goring (of ‘The Red Shoes’). Wilcox apparently instructed his cast toward naturalism, as the performances do not feel ‘acted’. Overall, an admirable film.]

  2. I may need to give this one another watch! (perhaps in a different version, as you mention).

  3. I really wondered about that comment as I was watching – because it wasn’t at all true to my viewing experience. It didn’t seem inconceivable to me that another print existed (for the purpose of audience members who did not want to sit through passages in French and German).

    But that aside… I was pulled into the film immediately anyway. But, as I said, films with a WWII setting are sort of a film fanatic ‘hobby’ of mine. They’re not all of equal value, of course, but I feel this is among the better ones.

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