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Tag Archives: Nazi Spies

Contraband (1940)

Contraband is a comic romantic spy thriller in the vein of The Lady Vanishes and Night Train to Munich. It also marks the second time that Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger worked together. Not as well known as their later films, or as Hitchcock’s early spy thrillers, Contraband nevertheless is an unexpectedly fun film.

Though the film was released in 1940, the story is set in 1939, before Britain was at war with Germany. Captain Hans Andersen (Conrad Veidt) is the captain of a Danish freighter bringing supplies to his homeland. But his ship is stopped by the British Navy. Though not yet at war, the British are in a state of military preparedness and are stopping all ships to check for contraband intended for the Germans. But while his ship is moored near London, Captain Andersen is drawn into the intrigues of several of his passengers, including the mysterious Mrs. Sorensen (Valerie Hobson).

When Contraband was released in America, it was titled Blackout, which Michael Powell later admitted was a more appropriate title. Nearly all of the story occurs during one night, with London subject to a blackout (nightly blackouts which would last for the entire war). All outdoor lights are off, windows are blocked with heavy curtains, cars drive without lights, air raid wardens roam the city looking for any light peeping through windows and warning people not to light matches, traffic signals are a pale fraction of their size, and pedestrians must grope their way through the city. It’s a fascinating look at London during the war, as well as a great setting for a story about German and British spies.

It is also fascinating to see Conrad Veidt – the king of silent German expressionist horror – in a heroic and lightly comic role. He even looks rather dapper and shares an unexpected, zesty chemistry with Valerie Hobson as two people who get a kick out of excitement and danger.

There is comedy in the story, verbal wit (several Nazis responds to Captain Hans Andersen’s introducing himself by saying they are the Brothers Grimm). Captain Andersen’s first mate, Axel (Hay Petrie), has a favorite brother who owns a restaurant in London, which is staffed by a number of Danes ready for a good scrap against the Nazis. The film presents Denmark and Britain as natural allies against the Nazis. Sadly, only a month after Contraband was released in Britain, the Nazis invaded Denmark.

Conrad Veidt and Valerie Hobson

Both Conrad Veidt and Emeric Pressburger were refugees from Nazi Germany. Veidt left with his Jewish wife in 1933, not long after they were married and Jews were banned from working in the film industry. Pressburger was a Hungarian Jew, though working in Berlin when Hitler came to power, and also left Germany. He would later become a British citizen and would form the extraordinarily creative The Archers production company with Michael Powell.

The plot of Contraband is fairly inconsequential. Like many of Hitchcock’s films, the journey and thrills are what count. It’s a fun film and I would definitely recommend it, especially if you are a fan of The Lady VanishesNight Train to Munich, Conrad Veidt, or Powell and Pressburger. And who isn’t a fan of at least one of those?

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Posted by on March 11, 2017 in Movies

 

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All Through the Night (1941) and Propaganda in American Films during WWII

1941 – Starring Humphrey Bogart, Conrad Veidt, Kaaren Verne, Peter Lorre – Directed by Vincent Sherman

Poster%20-%20All%20Through%20the%20Night_16[1]All Through The Night really has it all: gangsters, Nazi spies, romance, comedy, murder, kidnapping, a car chase, a fight in a lift, a nightclub song, cheesecake.

And it has the most marvelous cast crisscrossing in and out of Humphrey Bogart’s path as he detects his way through the film. The movie is actually sandwiched between his breakthrough role in The Maltese Falcon (1941) and his ever iconic role in Casablanca (1942), but this one is just plain fun.

Here, he is Gloves Donahue (his real name is Alfred, but he doesn’t like to spread that about) and he is a sports promoter (slightly on the shady side of things, though he does pay his taxes) who likes cheesecake. The man who makes his cheesecake is murdered, however, and his mother has a feeling that the girl who stopped by and wanted to speak with the baker knows something and when Gloves’ mother has a feeling then Gloves and all his men must get involved.

William demarest, Bogart, Peter Lorre

William Demarest, Bogart, Peter Lorre

Gloves manages to track down the woman who works at a nightclub of one of his rivals, where she sings. She seems nervous and her pianist, Pepi (Peter Lorre), is the same man who shot the baker and is noticeably keeping an eye on her. When the bouncer of the club goes back to tell her off for talking with Gloves, he is murdered by Pepi and everyone thinks Gloves did it. He goes on the run, trying to find the woman, who is the only person who can clear his name, and also is trying to unravel what’s going on. He takes William Demarest with him (being his usual cranky, grumbling self) and Frank McHugh, who just got married that night and just wants to go home to his bride.

I was very impressed: the title actually makes sense. The whole tale really happens “all through the night.” On his quest, he runs into Conrad Veidt (think Major Strasser from Casablanca), Judith Anderson (Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca, looking just as dangerous here) and figures out that there’s the most impressively organized fifth columnist Nazi spy ring in New York I’ve ever seen.

It’s actually a very fun movie, although the ending disintegrates into slight silliness and a few ‘we-need-to-wake-up-and-fight-the-Nazis” speeches, which – I’m all for fighting Nazis – is rather awkwardly inserted into the film. The film had such a delightful pace until it slowed down a little near the end.

Conrad Veidt, Kaaren Verne, Bogart

Conrad Veidt, Kaaren Verne, Bogart

As a result, the film ends up a little longer than it needs to be with moments like the one where there is a call to arms: gangsters of the country, unite and fight the Nazis! Even gangsters must do their part during the war.

There is one very funny moment near the end when Gloves and his sidekick, played by William Demarest, find themselves sitting in on a Nazi meeting where an act of sabotage is being planned and they are called upon to explain their part in the plan. They are reduced to fake German and some highly imaginative pseudo-science terms to bluff their way through, while the Nazis listening have to keep rising and saying “heil.”

Of course, if you think about it, the sabotage plan is not very bright. The movie was made before America entered the war, although it was released just afterwards, so any attack on America would have been a premature declaration of war, which doesn’t exactly make sense since you would think the last thing Hitler would want is to incite America to enter the war.

The movie was specifically made as a kind of comedic propaganda to awaken Americans to the dangers of the Nazis; the idea that the Nazis were a threat at home and not just in Europe, though the article on TCM’s site points out that as America entered the war, the less likely they were to make fun of Nazis and the more aware they were of the evil of Nazism.

Annex%20-%20Bogart,%20Humphrey%20(All%20Through%20the%20Night)_NRFPT_04_small[1]The film is still very funny and well worth watching and I’m surprised I had never heard of it before. I only saw it because it came in a Humphrey Bogart collection that I picked up at Costco (Costco has lovely deals on all sorts of classic films and classic film collections).

Notes: Three of the cast members actually did have to flee Nazi Germany: Conrad Veidt, because his wife was Jewish, Peter Lorre was also Jewish, and the female lead, Kaaren Verne. Kaaren Verne and Peter Lorre actually fell in love during the making of the film and would marry later, though they divorced 5 years later.

All Through the Night is yet another movie that the actor George Raft turned down, thus opening the way for Humphrey Bogart. George Raft was also offered the parts of Sam Spade and Rick in The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca. I’ve heard it said that George Raft single-handedly made Humphrey Bogart’s career.

Bogart’s mother is played by Jane Darwell, who I always think of as the Bird Lady from Mary Poppins and it was fun to see her in another role with no birds on her head.

 

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