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Powell and Pressburger - Vintage excellence
on 23 May 2007
This film was made during the war by Powell and Pressburger and more accurately represents the attitudes and aspirations of people at that period than any of the "war" films about WW2 made afterwards.
It was also made with a view to strengthening the ties between Britain and her hard-pressed allies in occupied Holland. It shows a typical bomber crew of young men drawn from very different backgrounds in Britain who, but for the war, might never have met but are bonded by a common purpose. When they are shot down in occupied Holland the heroic populace come to their rescue; misunderstandings are cleared, trust is formed, friendships are established, even love and romance blossom. It is well-paced and very exciting but without the mindless machine-gun spraying that flooded later films. These young men had to use their brains and nerves to get them through. The script is sharp: it is an intelligent film which suceeds at many levels. I won't spoil the ending for you but this is one of the most authentic pieces of purposeful film making I've ever seen and has great charm.
Two very famous scenes from it are worth a mention. One is the German Officer inspecting the congregation of the church during the sermon (a young Peter Ustinov - wonderful as the priest) when the airmen are hiding amongst their Dutch friends. The organist rebelliously plays a few notes of the Dutch national anthem quietly with his feet on the pedals which only the congretation will recognise. The German officer pauses in the doorway as he hesitates before leaving and his reflection is held in the organist's mirror. It is a beautiful, classic moment in film-making. The other is the scene in the Dutch mayor's dining hall where a fake wedding reception is being given. The black and white marble flooring give it a pictoral distinction but it is the naughty little dutch boy who swaps the german soldiers' records for a full collection of the Dutch national anthem who steals the scene!
The beautiful pearly quality of the Powell and Pressburger black and white film is also, I think, at its best in this film. As always the hallmark of their filming is the concentration on the faces of the characters so that we connect properly with them and their feelings. It was really all filmed in England but Lincolnshire has much in common with the landscapes of Holland as you will see if, as I strongly recommend, you buy this exceptional film. This introduced me to Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's films and I have been hooked ever since. If you only ever have one war film in your collection make it this one!