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  • British, made in 1943, which tells you the ideological basis of the film.

    It's a well-worked story of deception and counter-deception, mostly set in Halifax, NS. Evil Nazi agents and heroic British agents, with Richard Greene looking handsomer than ever in the van, mount operations against each other. Anna Neagle plays a double agent, which means she has to act acting, a test of ability which she carries off very well.

    Margaret Rutherford has a stormer of a cameo role, shamelessly stealing every scene she's in. Her line "Wouldn't it be nice to do something violent?" is a classic.

    Well above average example of routine genre.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Sally Maitland, the daughter of an upper-class family, makes herself unpopular in wartime Britain because of her pro-Nazi views- so much so that the authorities arrange for her to be sent to Canada. (The character of Sally was probably based upon Diana and Unity Mitford, two of the aristocratic Mitford sisters, both of whom held extreme right-wing views. The closeness of the first syllables of the names "Maitland" and "Mitford" is presumably no coincidence). While on board ship, she meets, and is romanced by, a refugee Polish army captain, forced to flee his homeland after the German invasion, and Jim Garrick, an officer with British Naval Intelligence, who has been sent to keep watch on her.

    Anna Neagle was a highly popular actress in Britain during this period. She specialised in playing heroines, particularly British national heroines such as Queen Victoria, Edith Cavell and the aviator Amy Johnson. To have played a villain, especially a traitor to her country, would have been a remarkable departure for her, so it is no surprise when Sally proves to be not the villain but the heroine of the piece, an agent with British Intelligence, sent to infiltrate a German spy-ring which is plotting to destroy the vital Canadian port of Halifax. In another twist typical of this type of spy drama, the supposed Polish officer turns out not to be a Pole at all, but rather one of the German spies.

    Anna Neagle's part, which she pulls off very well, can be considered a "double acting" role; she is playing the part of a character who is herself playing a part, pretending to be something she is not. During the first part of the film, while she is pretending to be a Nazi sympathiser, she seems convincing enough, with her cold, aristocratic hauteur, yet when the revelation comes about her true identity and motives I was not surprised; there is clearly something in her bearing which prepares the audience psychologically for a twist of this sort. There is also an amusing cameo from Margaret Rutherford as a cantankerous old battleaxe on the ship. (Those like me who have less than fond memories of the British TV show "That's Life"- an odd mixture of consumer investigations and childish humour- from the seventies and eighties will be amused to learn that the comedian Cyril Fletcher was churning out his appalling poetry as early as the forties).

    The film was obviously made as wartime propaganda, with the aim not only of keeping up morale but also of warning the British public to be on their guard against Nazi spies. Despite this, it is one of those wartime films which has remained watchable long after the end of the war.6/10
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Based on the case of Unity Mitford-Freeman, a blonde British lady whom Hitler took a fancy to, and who it now appears was a British agent all along, this story concerns a British socialite, Sally Maitland, who is reputed to be in the employ of the Third Reich. True, the real identities and characters of all concerned in this war-time, morale-boosting, spy thriller are obvious and the plot developments are as predictable as the dot of an "i", but it's well produced and by Herbert Wilcox's usual plodding standard, directed with pace and flair.

    Anna Neagle has bravely chosen to play her part the difficult way and she comes through with a success that makes it all seem easy. Lucie Mannheim is also impressive, but by and large, most of the other players tend to over-act, especially Greene, Lieven, Rutherford and Bailey. Admittedly, the Boys Own Paper dialogue is partly to blame, but then Neagle and Mannheim manage to surmount this obstacle to give restrained, realistic and convincing performances.

    Max Greene's superb cinematography with its elaborate noir lighting effects, especially in the ship-board and Halifax château scenes, was undoubtedly a key factor in the vigor of Wilcox's direction. The adroit skill of Vera Campbell's film editing with its elaborate dissolves effectively joining together short strings of tracking shots, must also be mentioned.

    There's a fair amount of action but much of it is spruced up with fairly obvious stock footage. Despite a few half-hearted attempts at comic relief and romance, the pace is commendably brisk — at least in the U.S. version, though it does disappointingly reduce Nova Pilbeam's role to a small bit at the finale!
  • blanche-222 September 2016
    Anna Neagle stars with Richard Greene, Albert Lieven, Nova Pilbeam, and Margaret Rutherford in the British film "The Yellow Canary" from 1943,

    Anna Neagle is Sally Maitland, a woman from a good family, estranged from them, who is a known Nazi sympathizer. She is forced to move to Halifax, Nova Scotia. On the ship, she meets a Polish aristocrat, Jan Orloch (Albert Lieven) and is also chased around by a British naval intelligence officer, Jimmy Garrick (Richard Greene). Once on dry land, she agrees to meet Jan's mother (Lucie Mannheim) who was blinded when the Nazis bombed their home.

    Garrick, meanwhile, is supposed to watch her every move.

    Enjoyable spy movie, with Neagle, the hugely popular British star, in fine form as a glamorous and somewhat snobby woman in this film, which has many twists and turns.

    Handsome Richard Greene was signed by 20th Century Fox, but went back to England during the war and served in the Royal Armoured Corps of the Twenty-Seventh Lancers, rising to Captain. His career never got off the ground again, but he is best known by us old-timers in the states for being Robin Hood in the British TV series, which made him filthy rich and well known. After that, he became a country gentleman, raising thoroughbreds. Here he is pleasant and earnest.

    Nova Pilbeam, who worked with Hitchcock, plays Neagle's mother in a small role.

    The smallest role is Margaret Rutherford, who is a riot and a real scene-stealer.

    If you see this is going to be on TCM, try and catch it.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Apart for about five minutes of the film, this was a "thinking man's" pro-Allies propaganda film made during WWII. Unlike so many other similar films, this one has a more interesting plot and many unique plot elements that help it stand above the pack. For once, the film is about a lady--one who apparently is leaving England because of her pro-Nazi sympathies. She evidently wore out her welcome and was moving to Canada to sit out the war. Because she was famous for publicly voicing her sentiments, most of the people on the boat avoid and despise her. Once in Canada, she is recruited to work as a spy for the Nazis and then the film gets even more interesting. So far, so good--the film is intricately written, well-acted and very, very interesting through most of the film.

    As I mentioned above, there is a MAJOR problem where the writers apparently fell asleep or had a psychotic episode about 3/4 of the way through the movie. Up until then, the main character (played by Anna Nagel) was a very smart lady as were her contacts withing the British secret service. However, shortly after she infiltrates the Nazi gang and is made a member, she meets with a Commander who is known to be a high-ranking secret service member. They meet in a very public place and then later kiss in a hallway. DUH!!! After supposedly spending years cultivating a pro-Nazi persona and withstanding LOTS of public scorn and threats, she does this and thereby might just be letting the Nazis know she really is a double agent! Duh! Fortunately, after this brainless segment, the film does get back on track and races to a fitting conclusion. And overall, a film well worth your time.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This film was ultimately something of a disappointment, declining in its final moments into a standard wartime flag-waver. This is a pity, because for much of its length it is effectively scripted, intriguing, and well-directed. I get the feeling that, having set up a complex premise with considerable skill, no-one was quite able to come up with any idea what to do with it.

    As befits a film about espionage and counter-espionage, most of the running length is spent in establishing exactly what is going on. The casting of Anna Neagle is in some respects a drawback in this -- there's nothing wrong with her performance, it's simply that it is unthinkable in a Wilcox/Neagle picture that England's Anna can ever really be on the 'wrong' side. The intended twist revealing her to be a double agent isn't quite so much of a surprise as it could be, and there can be no further ambiguity in her loyalties however suspiciously she behaves. That said, however, while I was assuming at the start that something more had to be going on than was evident, it's a tribute to Miss Neagle's acting that by the mid-point of the film I was beginning seriously to doubt my assumptions, and wonder if the requisite 'happy' ending would instead be provided by the character's last-minute conversion and sacrifice to foil the Fuehrer's plans!

    The picture starts as it goes on, elliptically and intelligently, by delineating in economical strokes what turn out to be two entirely irrelevant minor characters as a means to set the time and place: London, in a bombing raid. Our hard-eyed heroine is introduced in the first of many suspicious circumstances -- apparently signalling to German aircraft from a room in which a man's death has been made to look like suicide. We learn that she is unwelcome in polite Society before we learn, via a series of snippets, why -- in a wartime England, she alone refuses to condemn the Germans.

    Sally Maitland is a Unity-Mitford-like figure, but one endowed with a family of ardent patriots: the film is well-enough done to create an unlikely empathy for her point of view. After all, she has actually been to Germany, speaks the language fluently, and lived among its people; she is a proud girl, and most of those she is dealing with know nothing whatsoever about the country for which they express such hate. It's an uncomfortable shift of perception for the viewer, worthy of that profoundly English outsider, Emeric Pressburger.

    But Sally is not merely anti-war -- she makes a parade of being pro-Nazi, out to betray ship positions, sabotage the blackout, etc. It was at this point that I began to suspect the film of propaganda; surely a real Nazi agent wouldn't openly court suspicion, but would do her best in public to blend in? Yet she pointedly attaches herself to a Polish refugee officer, a member of the despised Slav races. On his side it is perhaps, as he says, chivalry for a girl with the courage to stand openly against the prevailing wind, but for a loyal Nazi, this is strange behaviour.

    So when, in Canada, 'Jan' finally draws out a cigarette-case with an emblazoned swastika, everything for me became suddenly very clear. It is at this moment, and not via the subsequent dialogue with the British Intelligence officer, that the true 'reveal' takes place; it is at this moment that we understand why she has been proclaiming herself as she has. Sally Maitland is indeed too blatant to be true. She has been sent to Canada as bait, to lure out a suspected Nazi network.

    From this point the film becomes a double-agent thriller, more concerned with ingenious mechanics than psychological tension, and inevitably becomes a little formulaic. It's still a pretty taut ride, with a few explanations yet to be tied in -- what exactly was she up to during that air-raid, for example? -- before the end.

    Unfortunately at the intended climax it does fall down rather, from the grand revelation of the Nazi mastermind's identity onwards. The best thing that resourceful Sally can think of to pass her message is to break cover and shout it down the telephone with the lights switched off, whereupon her brand new beau appears almost instantaneously (just how far is it from Mountie HQ?) to hold up the crooks single-handed. The convoy is rapidly rescued by pinpoint bombing despite zero visibility, and the supposedly shot-dead Sally is saved on the operating table. (Although some explanation is at least provided for this, in the form of the fatal cigarette case that stopped the bullet -- not at all clear on the small screen.) And the family reunion, with its obligatory gung-ho jollity, I found fairly cringe-making in contrast to the poised intelligence of what had gone before. The original pitch for the film was presumably 'Upperclass Nazi ultimately revealed as double agent': beyond that point, inspiration seems to have been somewhat lacking.

    For most of its length, however, "Yellow Canary" (the title referring to the heroine's supposed cowardice) is actually a pretty good picture. Anna Neagle gives an excellent performance as ice-cold Sally -- although she is less convincing in her 'reform' to a gushing, bumptious creature at the end -- and there are fascinating moments when you can watch her switch on a character in her double-agent role more or less at the drop of a hat. Margaret Rutherford has a priceless cameo as the sort of ultra-patriotic Englishwoman whose careless talk costs lives, and a young Richard Greene (of "Robin Hood" fame) demonstrates no mean acting ability himself, as his Intelligence commander switches between suave hero and the pose of silly-ass man about town. The intelligent script owes a good deal to writers Miles Malleson (character actor with scripts from "Nell Gwyn" to the Kordas' "Thief of Baghdad" to his credit) and DeWitt Bodeen (of the offbeat "Cat People").
  • Love a good spy picture, especially those involving double agents and counter spies, and this is one of them. Richard Greene is at his most appealing as a pesty passenger/spy and Anna Neagle is a Nazi sympathizer/ counter spy who meets a Polish national onboard a ship to Halifax who is actually a Nazi operative. Great stuff when you put it all together and add a sinister Nazi espionage plan (is there any other kind of Nazi plan?).

    Richard Greene is essential to the main plot, and don't go to the fridge during the passage to Halifax or you will miss a clever bit of deception involving Greene's character, as well as scenes with Margaret Rutherford, who is as delightful as always. "Yellow Canary" is well worth spending the 85 minutes running time. It is entertaining and contains the necessary moments of suspense and excitement that make movie-going so worthwhile.
  • This is a very clever thriller for its many fascinating details, its splendid dialogue and its total unpredictability. Anna Neagle makes a performance to go down in history, if all her other films will be forgotten, this one will not. Richard Greene also makes one of his best contributions, but the major male actor here is Albert Lieven as the Polish officer, who also makes probably his best performance. He was later to play the lead in "Beware of Pity" (on Stefan Zweig's famous and only novel) but is rather bleak there in comparison with this fascinating character; but this film is full of double characters, as if the major theme of the story and film was just that: double role play.

    Herbert Wilcox, director and producer and Anna Neagle's husband, made his mark by witty innovations and brilliant dialogue, which places this spy thriller on a higher level than most, especially of the period. The intrigue is fascinating all the way, as you never can guess what will happen next, the film actually starts off with a profound mystery, as a man is found dead where someone just has been signalling to the Nazis bombing London in the 1940 Blitz, a mystery which leaves you hanging, and it's not until late in the film when you almost already have forgotten it that it is resolved.

    The very introduction to the film is also worth a remark. Like in "Hamlet" two watchmen are chatting in the fog at night when the Blitz comes, but what they are discussing is Shakespeare. The other says Bacon, and there is an argument about it, until the second quotes Doctor Johnson: "If Bacon didn't write Shakespeare, he certainly missed his chance."

    The scene is London and Canada, that is Halifax in Nova Scotia, and you reach the other scene exactly half way into the film, where Anna Neagle is stranded as a suspect spy or as a security risk placed under constant surveillance, while there is much more to it than that, as the action will prove.

    Lucie Mannheim also makes a fascinating performance as the old lady Orlock, but the real original treat is Margaret Rutherford as one of her many delightfully eccentric old ladies - she dominates every scene she is in and gives a special relish of refreshment to the whole film.

    In brief, this is and remains a timeless treat for everyone who would enjoy being intrigued.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    After an impressive run for most of 2016,I've been disappointed that the BBC have been showing less of the more obscure RKO creations. Taking a quick look at the film section on BBC iPlayer,I was thrilled to see that they had unearthed a rare RKO British Spy flick,which led to me getting this canary out of the pit.

    The plot:

    Going deep undercover for the British, blonde Sally Maitland boards a ship to Canada. On the ship Maitland meets Jan Orlock,who unknown to Maitland has been secretly sent to protect her. During the journey,the ship is stopped by a Nazi heavy cruiser that kidnaps Orlock,which leads to Maitland realising how deep in the pit of espionage this yellow canary is.

    View on the film:

    Flying in during the war,director Herbert Wilcox (who would soon get married to the star!) & cinematographer Mutz Greenbaum are unable to fully shake off the limitations of the times,with scenes in trains and chases being played out stage-bound instead of the great outdoors. Working within the limitations, Wilcox and Greenbaum display sharp eyes for building a Spiv atmosphere with stylised shots seeding doubt on who side Sally Maitland is on,from impressive tracking shots that go down every level of the boat,to overlapping shots following Sally's double dealing.

    Partly based on the real Hitler devotee Unity Mitford,the screenplay by P.M. Bower/Miles Malleson and DeWitt Bodeen delivers a clear message of the British public needing to be on the lookout for Nazis in their midst. Following Wilcox's path,the writers cut through the propaganda with an impressive level of ambiguity Spiv Film Noir,via allowing Sally to swing the pendulum of trust between the Nazis and the British. Pulling the feathers in every scene, Anna Neagle gives a fantastic performance as Sally,thanks to Neagle subtly using facial expressions to give doubt over which side this canary sings for.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    YELLOW CANARY is a standard WW2 espionage film that paints the Nazis in the blackest of colours, as you'd expect from a movie made contemporaneous with the war itself. The usual propaganda elements of the genre are present and correct, and the tale as told is simple too, although rather simplistic for its type. There's not really too much depth to the story which means that it does feel like this drags in places.

    The film's protagonist is none other than Anna Neagle, once one of our country's most popular starlets, although she's long forgotten today. Her German background sees her driven out of Britain as a Nazi sympathiser, so she decides to start a new life in Nova Scotia. On board the ship she hooks up with two male passengers, one a rich aristocrat from Poland and the other a stiff-upper-lip British officer played by the reliable Richard Greene.

    The rest of the tale plays out as expected with hidden identities, shifts of allegiance, and a mystery angle as the viewer has to work out if any of the leads are hidden Nazi sympathisers or not. There's some peril here towards the climax which is reasonably done and the acting is solid enough for the genre. It's just a film that I found a little plodding at times.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Its 1940 and an attractive socialite Sally Maitland(Anna Neagle)is shunned by friends and loses favor with her wealthy family when she shows sympathy for the Nazi cause. She leaves England and arrives in Halifax, where she gets strange looks because of her reputation being a Nazi sympathiser. An infatuation develops between the ostracised Sally and British Lieutinent Commander Jim Garrick(Richard Greene). Canada feels the WWII heat as Sally and Garrick deal with assignments that pit them against each other. With movie goers needing a happy ending, it is revealed that Maitland is actually a double agent who mastered her deception well. Also in the cast: George Thorpe, Marjorie Fielding, Franklin Dyall and a Margaret Rutherford cameo.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    ***SPOILERS*** So-so WWII spy movie with Nazi admirer Sally Maitland, Anna Neagle, who's really, no kiddin!, working for the British I15 Intelligence Agency trying to get to the bottom of what the Nazis plan to do in bottling up all the British, the US wasn't at war at the time, ships docked in Halifax Harbor. That's by the Nazis planning to duplicate the 1917 explosion in the very same place that almost won them, but not quite, the First World War.

    Traveling coach on a dinky British freighter to Canada from Liverpool England Sally who's disliked by almost everyone on board, in being pro-German, strikes up a relationship with Polish freedom fighter Capt. Jan Orlack, Albert Lieven, who despite hating the Germans guts, for what they did to his native Poland, sees nothing at all wrong with her being so tight with the Nazi regime and even bragging about meeting and getting wined and dined by non other then Adolph Hitler when she visited Germany back in 1937!

    As for fellow undercover British intelligence agent the clean cut Let. Commander Jim Garrick, Richard Greene, who compared to the sleazy looking Col. Orlack, she treats him like absolute garbage without knowing that he there to make sure nothing bad happens to her. It's in Halifax that Sally meets Col. Orlack's mom Madame Orlack,Lucie Mannheim, who despite claiming that she lost her entire fortune back in Poland when the Nazis took over the country lives like a queen with all the fixing as well as money the goes alone with royalty: Except for not having paid her electricity bill for the mansion that she resides in!

    ***SPOILERS*** Sally soon finds out that Madam Orlack and her boy Jan are really working for the Nazis and using their cover, as Polish freedom fighters, to help in Hitler's plans to conquer the world starting with the pesky, in not going along with the program, British Empire first. It's here where both Sally and by then reviled to her secret agent Garrick jump into action in alerting the Halifax police as well as I15 British Intelligence Acency of what's about to go down! In the Nazis evil plan to cut the Candadian life line to the UK, by blasting and bottling up Halifax Harbor. Sally ends up getting shot by Madam Orlack's Nazi thugs only to survive when hero of the day Let. Commander Garrick, and about a dozen Halifax policemen, raided the place. As well as Sally having a solid gold and indestructible, due to high quality German ingenuity, cigarette case given to her by non other the Col. Orlack that stopped cold in its tracks the bullet fired at Sally from killing her!
  • This film is pretty typical of the WW II spy genre. Performances are okay but nothing special. Most of the story takes place in Canada, where the RCMP are responsible for catching enemy agents. The entire scenario is very easy to figure out so there are no real surprises as the various characters show their true loyalties. The ending is neatly wrapped up in a satisfying manner.
  • Prismark1017 March 2017
    Yellow Canary has a daring story considering it was made in 1943 but it is also a flag waving propaganda movie as well. Inspired by someone like Unity Mitford, Anna Neagle plays the socialite Sally Maitland who is in sympathy with the Nazis and an admirer of Hitler.

    Maitland is sent over to Canada and trailing her are spies from Britain and Germany. However it seems Maitland might be in fact a double agent on a mission in Canada to uncover a Nazi spy network.

    The film is brisk but also silly especially when Maitland is so careless at one point with a British agent.
  • Anna Neagle ("Sally") is quite efficient as the supposed Nazi sympathiser who abandons her family in a frequently bombed London and heads to the safety of Nova Scotia. En route, she attracts the attention of both the suave Polish officer "Jan Orlock" (Albert Lieven) and of the apparently hapless British one - Richard Greene ("Garrick") on the boat. On arrival, she befriends the mother of "Orlock" (Lucie Mannheim) and our story of espionage and counter-espionage begins in earnest. Nobody is exactly - or even remotely - whom they say they are and Herbert Wilcox manages to keep us guessing for much of the film, helped by three decent lead performances and quite a good story. Margaret Rutherford has some fun, in her very typical fashion to add a bit of light comedy (and sheer bloody mindedness) to the mix too and all told, this is a gently engaging tale of courage and bravery that is just about plausible.