Sunday, June 26, 2011

Underrated Movie #120: Went the Day Well?

Title: Went the Day Well?
Year: 1943
Director: Alberto Cavalcanti
Writers: John Dighton, Diana Morgan, Angus MacPhail, from a story by Graham Greene
Stars: Leslie Banks, Elizabeth Allan, Frank Lawton, David Farrar, Basil Sydney

The Story: A quaint English village plays host to a visiting group of British soldiers, then gradually realizes that their guests are actually Nazis in disguise, laying the groundwork for an invasion. They fight back against overwhelming odds, resulting in a one of the most rousing showdowns I’ve ever seen.

How it Came to be Underrated: This movie was totally banished from public memory but it’s slowly started to be rediscovered in recent years. No wonder it took so long: even today, the power of the violence is shocking.

Why It’s Great:

  1. When watching any movie made during the war, you always have to remind yourself that the moviemakers didn’t know their side was going to win, and they were exposing themselves to reprisals otherwise. It’s especially hard to remember here, as the movie begins with a framing sequences set after the war is over, as a kindly postwar townsperson tells us, “Nothing was said about the battle of Bramley End until after the war was over, when Hitler got what was coming to him…”
  2. They made a tricky decision to let the audience know right away that the arriving soldiers are actually Nazis. For propaganda purposes, they want to infuriate us at the naivety of those on the home front who fail to spot the clues to the invaders’ true identity, but this puts the moviemakers at a disadvantage when it comes to getting us to love our heroes. Luckily, great writing and winning performances make up the difference. We realize that they may be na├»ve at first, but no more than we in the audience would be, had we not seen this movie.
  3. Of course, it’s only because of the movie’s propaganda value that it was allowed to do away with propriety and show us the sort of brutally effective action scenes that puts it thirty years ahead of its time. The goal is to wake up the sleepy homefront to the dangers of espionage, and only a hard slap would do. (Or a hatchet to the face...)
  4. Cavalcanti was primarily a documentarian and his eye for realism suffuses the movie. In many wartime propaganda movies the heroes rely on their innate moral superiority to win. This movie has no patience for such self-flattery. This is a war of willpower: whoever fights hardest, wins. That’s why it’s still so watchable today.

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: Two underrated movies based on Graham Greene stories are Fritz Lang’s Ministry of Fear and Carol Reed’s The Fallen Idol

How Available Is It?: It’s got a bare-bones but nice-looking DVD

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