Friday, December 16, 2005

DVD: Went The Day Well? (1942)

Novelist Olen Steinhauer is one of the contributors to the blog Contemporary Nomad. His latest post, inspired by the 1943 Humphrey Bogart film Passage to Marseille, is in part about propaganda, then and now.

You’ll find few more effective examples of the form than this film, now available on video as part of Anchor Bay’s British War Collection. Based on a story by Graham Greene, the movie depicts a Nazi invasion of a remote English town. Characters out of an Ealing comedy – the haughty lady of the manor, dotty shopkeepers – find themselves battling for the future of their country, and sacrifices will be made. What’s most shocking is to view the film in context; at the time of its release, a German occupation of England was very much a possibility. The story is told in flashback after the war’s end, a date several years in the future.

During WWII, it was common for movies to carry positive messages about the fight. English audiences for 1940’s The Sea Hawk saw an additional closing scene in which Queen Elizabeth I (Flora Robson) gave a stirring speech that recast Errol Flynn’s derring-do in a new light. But instances of similar scenes in films made during Korea and Vietnam are few and far between; it remains to be seen if there will be any in movies about the current conflict, although Bruce Willis plans on giving it a shot.

Why did these moments go by the boards? Is it because later conflicts lacked WWII’s clarity of purpose, as Steinhauer suggests? Or because movie audiences became too sophisticated to be preached to? Was it the transfer of ownership of the American film industry from a handful of image-conscious immigrant strivers to multinational corporations solely interested in not offending anyone? Or something else entirely?

I’m just asking.