Friday, February 26, 2010

376: The 49th Parallel

(Michael Powell, 1941)

49th Parallel is part propaganda, part adventure thriller, yet it has one very unique twist. The movie is essentially The Great Escape, only you aren't supposed to want to root for the protagonists. In fact, the protagonists are Nazis, stranded in Canada, struggling to make it back to the (at the time neutral) United States.

This makes the movie a far more interesting one, in my opinion, than the movie Powell and Pressburger made two films later in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. The film is essentially episodic, as the Nazis meet different people along the way and slowly lose members of their group to death (at the hands of Canadians or, in one moving moment, their own hands) or capture. So the only through line in the film are the Nazis themselves, and yet you never root for them, as they are basically propaganda in the form of characters, quick to betray the people who they meet and even each other, devoted only to the Fuhrer, destined to be defeated. How many movies can you think of where the main characters are unlikable and unsympathetic? Now how many of those were made before 1970? 1950?

This would make the movie seem very revolutionary, if it wasn't for the fact that the Nazis speak the Queen's English - even to each other, alone - and are perfectly inconspicuous among Canadian crowds. This basically makes the entire concept of the movie unrealistic, since the language barrier is never addressed. I'm not sure how the conversation went where they thought, "Okay, let's just fucking do this whole thing in English." I doubt they even thought about it, of course. But I definitely think this movie could easily be updated for the modern war, involving terrorists being stuck in America away from central command... but now I'm getting ahead of Hollywood. I'm sure it's already in the works.

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