49th Parallel (1941)

Not Rated   |    |  Drama, Thriller, War


49th Parallel (1941) Poster

A World War II U-boat crew are stranded in northern Canada. To avoid internment, they must make their way to the border and get into the still-neutral U.S.


7.3/10
5,323

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  • Glynis Johns in 49th Parallel (1941)
  • Raymond Massey in 49th Parallel (1941)
  • Niall MacGinnis in 49th Parallel (1941)
  • Eric Portman in 49th Parallel (1941)
  • Glynis Johns in 49th Parallel (1941)
  • Raymond Massey in 49th Parallel (1941)

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Reviews & Commentary

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User Reviews


6 February 2009 | ackstasis
8
| "The only undefended frontier in the world"
You'd be tempted to think that there's no way '49th Parallel (1941)' could have turned out anything less than excellent. Not only do Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger perform their famous double-act, but there's also the equally-enviable partnership of David Lean (here working as editor) and cinematographer Freddie Young. But we must remember that in the realm of WWII propaganda there lie dangerous waters, and only the most talented filmmakers (so far, I count Hitchcock, Wilder, Renoir, Curtiz and Reed) can navigate their war-themed picture towards any degree of lasting respectability. We can certainly add Michael Powell to that list of famous names. '49th Parallel' is different from most of its contemporaries because it presents the film solely from the German point-of-view. The portrayal is not favourable, of course, and at least their commander reeks of pure evil, but the German characters are nonetheless humanised to no small extent. These aren't cold, immoral monsters, but ordinary people, swept up in euphoric Nazi ideology and pining for the simpler life they can barely remember.

When a German submarine is destroyed in Hudson Bay, Canada, the surviving Nazi soldiers – led by the fiercely patriotic Kommandant Bernsdorff (Richard George) – must navigate their way across the country into the then-neutral United States of America. The native citizens they meet along the way are largely jovial and laid-back, many hardly aware of the war raging across the Atlantic, and the Germans haughtily deem them foes unworthy of the Fuhrer's might. But these Canadians, as placid as they first seem, can surely recognise fascism when they see it, and each of the soldiers is picked off one by one, like the characters from a war-themed version of Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None." Among the unwitting local patriots is French-Canadian trapper Laurence Olivier – a caricature but an entertaining one – anthropologist/author Leslie Howard, and grinning deserter Raymond Massey, each of whom shows the Nazis that they're dealing with an enemy whose sheer spirit overshadows all of Hitler's armies combined.

The film was apparently intended as a tribute to Canada's involvement in the war, and perhaps – as was Hitchcock's 'Foreign Correspondent (1940)' – a call-to-arms for the then-isolationist United States, who would hold back until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941. Many of the film's characters remark upon the sheer remoteness of the war relative to their own lives, unaware that it is actually standing before them; this idea was almost certainly aimed at American audiences. After the brilliantly suspenseful first act at Hudson Bay, I initially felt that the film was going off track by continuing to follow the Germans after their aerial departure from the remote village. However, as time wore on, I began to appreciate what the film was aiming for. Though the snow-swept slopes around Hudson Bay may seem leagues away from the Canadian/American border, Kommandant Bernsdorff and his ever-dwindling band gradually progress their way south, until, not only does he reach the border, but he physically crosses into the United States. The War had never been closer.

Critic Reviews



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Did You Know?

Trivia

While some may think that this movie was inspired by Franz von Werra's escape from a Canadian POW camp (as portrayed in The One That Got Away (1957)), von Werra wasn't sent to Canada until January 1941, and his escape wasn't reported until he got back to Germany in April 1941. This movie was written as Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger went to Canada in late 1940, and production was underway by January 1941. Powell and Pressburger wouldn't have heard about von Werra until this movie was almost completed.


Quotes

Prologue: I see a long, straight line athwart a continent. No chain of forts, or deep flowing river, or mountain range, but a line drawn by men upon a map, nearly a century ago, accepted with a handshake, and kept ever since. A boundary which divides two ...


Goofs

All of the Germans speak perfect British English, without a trace of so much as even a German accent.


Crazy Credits

(Spoken introduction) "I see a long straight line athwart a continent. No chain of forts, or deep flowing river, or mountain range, but a line drawn by men upon a map nearly a century ago, accepted by a handshake and kept ever since. A boundary which divides two nations yet marks their friendly meeting grounds, the 49th parallel, the longest undefended frontier in the world."


Alternate Versions

The opening credits in the American version show, not the mountain ranges of Canada, but an extreme close-up of a beach: at first the sand is untouched; then as the title THE INVADERS appears, the shot dissolves into one of a boot-print in the sand, pointed ashore.


Soundtracks

Alouette
(uncredited)
Traditional French folksong
Sung to accompaniment of accordion by
Laurence Olivier

Storyline

Plot Summary


Synopsis (WARNING: Spoilers)


Genres

Drama | Thriller | War

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