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49th Parallel [VHS]
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Product Description

During World War II, Michael Powell and his writer-producer partner Emeric Pressberger were enlisted to make films in support of the British war effort. While many of their contemporaries turned out routine thrillers, Powell and Pressberger created inventive dramas with a patriotic purpose. The 1941 adventure The 49th Parallel, about a small German U-boat crew stranded in Canada off Hudson's Bay, is a prime example of wartime propaganda turned into rousing entertainment with smart writing, engaging characters, and creative cinema. As the Germans traverse the length of Canada, attempting to outrun authorities while seeking a passage to the still-neutral United States, they encounter a wide array of citizens from all walks of life, including French Canadian trapper Laurence Olivier (with a perhaps overenthusiastic accent), Hutterites Anton Walbrook and Glynis Johns, intellectual aesthete Leslie Howard, and two-fisted AWOL soldier Raymond Massey. As the Nietzschian sermons of Nazi leader Hirth (Eric Portman) fall on deaf ears, his party dwindles in number as the people of Canada rise up to stop his escape, not so much with violence as with pure defiance. The rhetoric isn't subtle--the film was designed to both strengthen ties to Canada and encourage America's entrance into the war--but the vivid location shooting provides a marvelous travelogue of Canada's landscapes and natural beauty and a loving portrait of the rich culture north of the 49th parallel. The picture earned Emeric Pressberger an Academy Award for his original story. This movie is also known as The Invaders. --Sean Axmaker

Customer Reviews:

  • Excellent WWII Propaganda piece from Powell and Pressburger... Fine DVD presentation from Criterion
    This was Powell and Pressburger's contribution to the British war effort. It's main aim was to help sway the American public into joining the war on the British side. By 1940, Britain and it's Empire, including Canada, were at war with Nazi Germany. America remained adamantly neutral. The US Neutrality Act forbade any direct appeal by the British to the American people but P&P sidestepped this by having the Germans stage a landing in Canada instead and showing how the Nazis were a threat even to far-away America.

    The crew of the German raider U-37, after torpedoing a Canadian merchant ship, is sunk by the RCAF in northern Hudson Bay, near the Canadian Arctic (Talk of propaganda - as we learn in the commentary, the three B-10 bombers we see attacking the sub, actually made up the entire fleet of the RCAF in 1940). Six of the U-37 crew make it to shore alive. They have to cross hostile Canadian territory to reach the safety of neutral America. The film contrasts the kindness and decency of Canadians, emphasising their kinship with their American brethren to the south, against the brutality and inhumanity of the Nazis. As the U-37 crew trek southward, they encounter various Canadians who prove their loyalty in one way or another, often delivering ringing lectures about the rightness of the allied cause. Laurence Olivier is almost unrecognisable as the jolly French trapper whom the Nazis try to tempt by declaring that Hitler has sworn to free French Canadians from the tyranny of the British. Instead he risks his life trying to warn the Americans. Eskimo hunters (Inuit), described as semi-apes by the Nazis, manage to kill one of the Germans as they flee south. Leslie Howard plays to type, the caricature of the glib, upper-crust, Anglo-Canadian gentleman, totally uninterested in the war half a world away, but who finally stands up when it truly counts. Raymond Massey plays a Canadian soldier gone AWOL. We see Blackfoot Indians in full regalia, in the Canadian Rockies, staring balefully at the invaders, as the valiant RCMP hunt down the fugitives. Even German Canadians, in the form of a German Hutterite community (similar to the Amish), make their loyalty to Canada clear, when they proudly avow their German heritage while disdainfully forswearing any kinship with the Nazis. It is unabashed wartime propaganda and it is none too subtle. But it was and remains enjoyable. P&P won an Oscar for the film's original screenplay.

    All 18 minutes worth of footage previously deleted from the American release has been replaced. This includes the German Lieutenant Hirst's exposition on Nazi racial theory, where he lumps the Canadian Eskimos (Inuit) together with Negroes as "semi-apes", just "one-degree" above the Jews. Also restored is the scene with the Inuit, Nick, lying dead on the floor with his skull shattered by a rifle butt. Also restored are references to the priest Father Malotte as a German spy - this latter sequence being deleted for fear of offending American Catholics. The ending works almost like an early Hitchcock thriller - will they or will they not reach the safety of America and what will the Americans do when they arrive?

    The picture has been handsomely restored with only an occasional instance of dirt seen. It is presented in a slightly window-boxed 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Contrast, black level and grey scale are perfect. The sound is presented in its original 1.0 mono, with clear dialogue and fine music reproduction. Optional English subtitles are provided. There is an excellent full-length commentary from film and music historian Bruce Eder. Aside from the film he talks at some length on Ralph Vaughan Williams' fine score, relating it to Vaughan Williams' various other works. The first disc is rounded out with the original theatrical trailer.

    The second disc contains three items. The first is another P&P wartime effort, "The Volunteer", a 46-minute recruitment film for the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm. It stars then Lt. Cmdr. Ralph Richardson with a cameo by his friend Laurence Olivier. It has extensive footage of the FAA, which by then (1943) was equipped with the Seafire (naval variant of the famous Spitfire). We follow the Royal Navy as it sails around the Mediterranean with the Seafires being put through their paces. The second item is an hour-long audio exerpt from the memoirs of Michael Powell detailing the making of 49th Parallel. The final item is a 50-minute BBC Arts documentary "A Pretty British Affair" chronicling the life-long partnership of Powell and Pressburger with tributes from younger America directors like Francis Coppola and Martin Scorcese. Picture and sound are excellent throughout. There is a 10-page booklet with a fine article on P&P's various wartime efforts, followed by the transcript of Michael Powell's speech at the premier of 49th Parallel.

    Note: The 49th Parallel refers to the US-Canada border, which as the film states at the beginning, remains the only undefended border in the world....more info
  • Wonderful as anti-Nazi propaganda but failed as film
    Powell and Pressburger made great films, they were artists of the art of cinema. I am the first to regret to write this but the well-intentioned aim of the film: to rouse anti-Nazi feelings in America in order to help the British against the German nazis poses too much stress on the film itself.

    The cast is great, great actors; great scenery. As propaganda it is hardly possible to do a better job in exposing what Nazism means and its implications in our daily lives (religious and civil liberties), and it brings to bear in mind the lucky we free peoples are in our imperfect democracies, so we can appreciate our freedoms more. But again, this aim is too stressed, it becomes too obvious in the dialogues and all through the film....more info
  • how many americans today realize it took us more than 2 years to enter the "good" war?

    the first of the powell-pressburger classics (the decade would see them go on to "the red shoes", "black narcissus", "tales of hoffman", and several others) is an episodic tale which counts as much as agitprop as a film. made partly to encourage americas entry into ww2, the film details the attempt of a stranded nazi u-boat crew in canada trying to make its way safely to the then-neutral united states. eric portman is the nazi captain (eerily presaging his role two decades later in "the bedford incident") who runs into (and up against) the likes of laurence olivier (hilariously hammy as a french canadian trapper), anton walbrook, leslie howard, and raymond massey. the movie is suspenseful and an oddity in that it has you most identifying with portman, its main character -- and a HIGHLY unsympathetic one at that. in such, its almost akin to "dr strangelove" where you found yourself rooting for the crew of the plane about to launch ww3! im not sure how effective this was as agitprop, but it IS a terrific movie (& oh, btw, the nazis DO get their just comeuppance thanks to good ol' canadian knowhow!)
    ...more info
  • A legendary five stars film!
    This is a gripping war drama around the misfortunes of the famous German U- boat, sunk off Canada and the eventual dramatis personae of its survivors trying to reach some safety in neutral territory. One of the most reminded films of the WW2. Cast and direction are superb.

    Another point game for that unforgettable British director: Michael Powell (The red shoes, Peeping Tom, Black Narcissus, I know where I'm going)
    ...more info
  • Powell & Pressburgerlicious
    With the advent of Criterion releasing so many Powell/Pressburger colaborations to video, I've become a real fan of their stuff and 49th Parallel is no exception.

    The story involves the activities of a group of fugitive German soldiers crossing Canada during World War II who try to evade capture while spreading the word of 'der Fuehrer'. While the premise doesn't sound all that original considering the propagandistic output of the film industry at the time, the script and performances make this film one of the best. The photography in certain scenes borders on the expressionistic with great visuals of Canada in all its natural glory. The acting is right on the mark and contains segments featuring great canadian and british actors of the '40's.....Anton Walbrook, Olivier, Raymond Massey, Glynnis Johns, Leslie Howard.

    Filmed in black and white it may lack some of the intensity of Black Narcissus, but the print is good and the story even better.
    ...more info
  • Another great Powell and Pressburger film
    This review is for the Criterion Collection DVD edition of the film.

    49th Parallel which takes place during World War 2 about a group of German naval officers stranded in Canada after their submarine is destroyed in Hudson Bay by the Canadian Air Force. They decide to walk to the United States which has not yet entered the war. Along the way they encounter a Hutterite commune, a group of hunters and many other people.

    This is a great film and has a rare depiction of the Hutterites in a major film. This alone makes it a great film in my opinion.

    This DVD release is a double disc set.

    Disc one contains the film with optional audio commentary by Bruce Eder and a theatrical trailer.

    Disc two contains

    "The Volunteer" a short film made by Powell and Pressburger film for the war effort.

    "A Pretty British Affair" a documentary about Powell and Pressburger

    and selections from Michael Powells dictations for his autobiography.

    This is a great film and is the best Powell and Pressburger that I have seen so far...more info
  • 49th Parallel
    Also known as "The Invaders," and co-scripted by Powell's longtime partner Emeric Pressburger, this clever, rousing anti-fascist war thriller was one of Britain's boldest and most memorable propaganda pictures. Portman is mesmerizing as the wicked, hate-spouting Lt. Hirth, Walbrook, Howard, and Olivier (despite the heavy Quebecois accent) are uniformly excellent, and the distinguished Raymond Massey is also on-hand playing cynical AWOL soldier Andy Brock. Powell even brings a documentary-like intensity to the sequences filmed in Indian and Hutterite communities. Absorbing on many levels, "Parallel" is a soul-stirring drama that recaptures a tumultuous time....more info