Monday, May 28, 2012

"Went the Day Well" (1942)

"Obey my orders and you will not be harmed. Any person who attempts to escape or communicate with the outside world will be shot!"

The sleepy English village of Bramley End has the unfortunate distinction to be the headquarters selected for a German invasion of Great Britain. German soldiers posing as their British counterparts arrive and begin to scout out the town and settle themselves into every house in town as billets. The villagers have no idea their world is about to be turned upside down. What follows is a brutal lesson on the horrors of war brought to the home front. With no hope of outside help, the villagers alone must take on the Germans and win or die trying.

The only reason I even found this film was thanks to the Preakness, a thoroughbred horse race and Movies over Matter who made a post about the movie. I’m always up for a WWII propaganda film so I decided to watch this one and I am so happy I did! In my opinion this is a forgotten gem of a film. Set in flashback, we see a man speaking in a churchyard after the war and telling the viewer the tale of when Bramley End was invaded by Germans. The film was only made in 1942 though so it’s predicting a future possibility of what the world would be like. The outcome is essentially part of the propaganda for moral on the home front.

One of the great things about the movie is that they let the audience in on the con near the beginning. These kinds of films are always nerve-wracking as the viewer knows more than the characters. A great example would be ”Rope” and this movie does have a Hitchcock feel to it. One of the villagers is a Nazi spy, foiling the other villagers at every turn and yet only the viewer and German soldiers know they exist. You can only wait for the other shoe to drop. I did find it somewhat unbelievable that the spy managed to keep getting away with what they were doing. There’s a war on and these people aren’t more observant and diligent? Wasn’t the War Office going into overdrive on the whole “loose lips sink ships” and being on the lookout for suspicious activity? I also found it highly improbably that the German soldiers would have perfect British accents. Though I did like how some of the soldiers didn’t speak as they didn’t know any English and would give themselves away.

The best aspect of the movie was when the Director Cavalcanti played a stick and carrot game with the audience. We’re shown one opportunity after another that the villagers create to get word out about the Nazis and every single one is taken away from them and us, the audience. Every time I held my breath and hoped that this they would stop the Nazis. No one in this film is safe, just as in war and that's what makes the film so exciting.

I was impressed with how the violence and suspense was amped up with every attempt and how it made the plot unpredictable and nervewracking. The pacing was perfect. Too often with action films the plot either paints characters into a corner and only deus ex machine can save them or the plot is so predictable that I can literally guess what one liners characters will shout out. As for the action, I was shocked by the violent brutality. I never expected a movie from the 40s, let alone now, to take some of the risks it does. I can only wonder how audiences reacted when it was first released. Movies over Matter mentions that the US would never have been able to make a propaganda movie like this and they’re right. I don’t think American audiences would have been able to stomach some of the things on screen. I believe this is because in most areas of the US, the war felt so far away. They were essentially removed from the theatres of war. This is only because of the physical distance between the home front and the war front though. Invasion was a real issue for Britain, as they only separated from the rest of Europe by the English Channel. In fact, the Channel Islands, part of the British Commonwealth, were actually occupied during the war.

Usually in war movies, all the audience sees are brave soldiers taking on the enemy. In this film we get to see civilians in action. This always seems more brave to me. They usually have little to no training and if anyone knows how to fire a gun it’s usually because they hunt small game like rabbit. Usually no one has ever killed another human being or looked death in the face before. In this situation they have to put all of that aside and reach deep inside themselves and find the courage to defend their homes, their neighbours and themselves. In fact, I was more proud of their actions than I would have been if they had been soldiers. Class divide is extremely apparent in the movie but is a transparent barrier that has little to no affect on the film. Everyone is united in their efforts to purge Bramley End of the enemy. As well, I was very pleased to see how active women were in this movie. They took part in the action, voiced their opinion to help and instead of being left behind as you would normally expect of a movie like this, they were encouraged to go along.

I loved this movie. It’s a forgotten little gem and was a joy to watch. I would highly recommend it!

Rating: 4.5/5

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