Hello, CMBA members! I’m excited to be participating in the fall Trains, Planes, and Automobiles blogathon. This is my third blogathon entry for CMBA: others were reviews of Intermezzo (both versions — 1936 and 1939) for Fabulous Films of the 30s and The Fabulous World of Jules Verne (1958) for Fabulous Films of the 50s.
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“In time you will see things the way I do — the way everyone in Germany does.”
An armor-plating inventor (Felix Aylmer) flees Prague in time to avoid Nazi occupation, but his daughter (Margaret Lockwood) is caught and sent to a concentration camp, where she meets a handsome prisoner (Paul Henreid) who helps her escape to England. When she and her father are kidnapped and taken back to Germany, they must rely on the help of a charismatic spy (Rex Harrison) to help them cross to Switzerland — but will their ruse be spoiled by a pair of nosy British passengers (Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne)?
Made just two years after Hitchcock’s classic pre-war thriller The Lady Vanishes (1938), this film — directed by Carol Reed — bears inevitable comparison in many respects, given that it was co-authored by the same screenwriting team (Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder), took place in part on a train, and featured both the same leading actress (Lockwood) and the same wisecracking comedic duo (Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne). By 1940, however, war had officially broken out, and the difference in narrative emphasis shows: Nazis are called out explicitly as heinous villains, concentration camps (albeit in a sanitized sound-set version) are shown, and the call to action on behalf of Brits was more profound than ever. This became an early entry in the lengthy array of wartime cinema produced by Britain, functioning both as escapist fare and patriotic stimulation.
The movie’s pace is fast-moving, and while we find out the true identity of one key character early on, this doesn’t lessen the tension. We are primarily focused on admiring the daring-do of Harrison, who is nicely cast here as a brave (if slightly rash) spy willing to risk his life to help Aylmer and Lockwood. As in The Lady Vanishes, I’m not a fan of Radford and Wayne’s presence, though they are at least tightly integrated into the plot and serve a critical function. While Lockwood’s character isn’t all that memorable, Henreid — perhaps best known for his work in Now, Voyager (1942) and Casablanca (1942) — does a fine job in an unenviable role, and Harrison is actually not annoying (plus, he SINGS — for real!).
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Rex Harrison as Gus Bennett
- A fast-paced, enjoyably light-hearted yarn for wartime British audiences
No; this one is fun but optional viewing for film fanatics.