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49th Parallel - Criterion Collection
49th Parallel - Criterion Collection
Actors: Leslie Howard, Laurence Olivier, Richard George, Eric Portman, Raymond Lovell
Director: Michael Powell
Genres: Action & Adventure, Indie & Art House, Drama, Mystery & Suspense, Military & War
UR     2007     1hr 44min

At once a compelling piece of anti-isolationist propaganda and a quick-witted wartime thriller, 49th Parallel is a classic early work from the inimitable British filmmaking team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Wh...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Leslie Howard, Laurence Olivier, Richard George, Eric Portman, Raymond Lovell
Director: Michael Powell
Creators: Freddie Young, Michael Powell, George H. Brown, John Sutro, Roland Gillett, Emeric Pressburger, Rodney Ackland
Genres: Action & Adventure, Indie & Art House, Drama, Mystery & Suspense, Military & War
Sub-Genres: Classics, Indie & Art House, Drama, Mystery & Suspense, Military & War
Studio: Criterion
Format: DVD - Black and White - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 02/20/2007
Original Release Date: 04/15/1942
Theatrical Release Date: 04/15/1942
Release Year: 2007
Run Time: 1hr 44min
Screens: Black and White
Number of Discs: 2
SwapaDVD Credits: 2
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 13
Edition: Criterion Collection
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Languages: English, French, German

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Movie Reviews

"today Europe, tomorrow the world !"
Alejandra Vernon | Long Beach, California | 03/13/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"These are the words spoken by the Nazis in this film to strike enough fear into the hearts of Americans to encourage them to join WWII, in this all-star propaganda vehicle that is riveting and features terrific performances; some of the big names involved in this production were also behind the camera, with Michael Powell directing, Emeric Pressburger as writer, Freddie Young as cinematographer, David Lean as editor, and a score by Ralph Vaughn Williams.

As the German U-boat gets bombed by the Canadian Air Force, stranding the six man landing party led by Lt. Hirth (Eric Portman), you follow them as they try to "blend" into the Canadian populace, with the intentions of crossing the border into the US.
Some of the stellar performances include Sir Laurence Olivier as a French Canadian trapper who has spent so long in the wild he is not aware the world is at war, Anton Walbrook ("The Red Shoes") is fabulous and so handsome as the leader of a peaceable community, where we also find a lovely young Glynis Johns, who is an orphan living there. Leslie Howard, an actor who I could watch read the proverbial telephone book, is marvelous as a writer who invites the strangers into his teepee in the woods, and Raymond Massey gives a delicious portrayal of a young man who has overstayed his leave from the military.

Also starring in this film is the Canadian landscape, which we get to see and admire as the Nazis make their way from coast to coast.
Though the plot has some gaping holes, it is well written, fast-paced, and quite exciting, and is a fascinating film from an historical perspective, and because of the participation of so many great performers and filmmakers.
The Germans are coming! The Germans are coming!!
Joe Sixpack -- | Middle America | 01/07/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Michael Powell directed this odd wartime propaganda film, set in Canada, before the American entry into WWII. A German U-boat has infiltrated the Canadian coastline, seeking to attack and subvert our neighbors to the North, before Uncle sam can wake up and get into the fight. The Canucks make short work of the Nazi, sub, sinking it in Hudson Bay, but a reconnaissance team, now stranded in Newfoundland, sets out to smuggle themselves into the US, where, sheltered by American neutrality, they intend on spreading Nazi propaganda, or perhaps even blowing up the American capitol, or some other act of terrorism. Viewed in the wake of the September 11th, 2001 bombings, this was a remarkable film, particularly as the German strategy was specifically to subvert the openness and freedom of the "decadent" democracies, and turn the rule of law into a weapon against them. Sound familiar? Two sequences bear the unique Powellian stamp of the director's odd, askew sense of humor. The first is a prolonged "Witness"-like interlude in a rural Mennonite community, where the gentleness and loving acceptance of the farmers threaten to upend the authority of the fanatical German leader. Once he manages to peel his men away from the embrace of pacifism and equality, the commandant leads his men Westward in a reckless race towards the border in the Pacific Northwest. The film's most brilliant scene unfolds as the manhunt traps them in an "Indian Days" celebration at a national park: when the police take over the PA system and address the crowd to warn them of the hidden spies, the Germans shrink with terror as they are described to the tiniest, most accurate detail. But the celebrants -- typical consumers of spectacle and passive entertainment -- don't even bother to look sideways at the sweating, tense terrorists in their midst. Why bother? Isn't that someone else's job? This is a fun film, both an historical oddity and prescient reminder that wicked people may always prey on the goodwill of those they see as "weak." Recommended!"
Excellent WWII Propaganda piece from Powell and Pressburger.
dooby | 03/10/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This was Powell and Pressburger's contribution to the British war effort. It's main aim was to help sway the American public into joining the war on the British side. By 1940, Britain and it's Empire, including Canada, were at war with Nazi Germany. America remained adamantly neutral. The US Neutrality Act forbade any direct appeal by the British to the American people but P&P sidestepped this by having the Germans stage a landing in Canada instead and showing how the Nazis were a threat even to far-away America.

The crew of the German raider U-37, after torpedoing a Canadian merchant ship, is sunk by the RCAF in northern Hudson Bay, near the Canadian Arctic (Talk of propaganda - as we learn in the commentary, the three B-10 bombers we see attacking the sub, actually made up the entire fleet of the RCAF in 1940). Six of the U-37 crew make it to shore alive. They have to cross hostile Canadian territory to reach the safety of neutral America. The film contrasts the kindness and decency of Canadians, emphasising their kinship with their American brethren to the south, against the brutality and inhumanity of the Nazis. As the U-37 crew trek southward, they encounter various Canadians who prove their loyalty in one way or another, often delivering ringing lectures about the rightness of the allied cause. Laurence Olivier is almost unrecognisable as the jolly French trapper whom the Nazis try to tempt by declaring that Hitler has sworn to free French Canadians from the tyranny of the British. Instead he risks his life trying to warn the Americans. Eskimo hunters (Inuit), described as semi-apes by the Nazis, manage to kill one of the Germans as they flee south. Leslie Howard plays to type, the caricature of the glib, upper-crust, Anglo-Canadian gentleman, totally uninterested in the war half a world away, but who finally stands up when it truly counts. Raymond Massey plays a Canadian soldier gone AWOL. We see Blackfoot Indians in full regalia, in the Canadian Rockies, staring balefully at the invaders, as the valiant RCMP hunt down the fugitives. Even German Canadians, in the form of a German Hutterite community (similar to the Amish), make their loyalty to Canada clear, when they proudly avow their German heritage while disdainfully forswearing any kinship with the Nazis. It is unabashed wartime propaganda and it is none too subtle. But it was and remains enjoyable. P&P won an Oscar for the film's original screenplay.

All 18 minutes worth of footage previously deleted from the American release has been replaced. This includes the German Lieutenant Hirst's exposition on Nazi racial theory, where he lumps the Canadian Eskimos (Inuit) together with Negroes as "semi-apes", just "one-degree" above the Jews. Also restored is the scene with the Inuit, Nick, lying dead on the floor with his skull shattered by a rifle butt. Also restored are references to the priest Father Malotte as a German spy - this latter sequence being deleted for fear of offending American Catholics. The ending works almost like an early Hitchcock thriller - will they or will they not reach the safety of America and what will the Americans do when they arrive?

The picture has been handsomely restored with only an occasional instance of dirt seen. It is presented in a slightly window-boxed 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Contrast, black level and grey scale are perfect. The sound is presented in its original 1.0 mono, with clear dialogue and fine music reproduction. Optional English subtitles are provided. There is an excellent full-length commentary from film and music historian Bruce Eder. Aside from the film he talks at some length on Ralph Vaughan Williams' fine score, relating it to Vaughan Williams' various other works. The first disc is rounded out with the original theatrical trailer.

The second disc contains three items. The first is another P&P wartime effort, "The Volunteer", a 46-minute recruitment film for the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm. It stars then Lt. Cmdr. Ralph Richardson with a cameo by his friend Laurence Olivier. It has extensive footage of the FAA, which by then (1943) was equipped with the Seafire (naval variant of the famous Spitfire). We follow the Royal Navy as it sails around the Mediterranean with the Seafires being put through their paces. The second item is an hour-long audio exerpt from the memoirs of Michael Powell detailing the making of 49th Parallel. The final item is a 50-minute BBC Arts documentary "A Pretty British Affair" chronicling the life-long partnership of Powell and Pressburger with tributes from younger America directors like Francis Coppola and Martin Scorcese. Picture and sound are excellent throughout. There is a 10-page booklet with a fine article on P&P's various wartime efforts, followed by the transcript of Michael Powell's speech at the premier of 49th Parallel.

Note: The 49th Parallel refers to the US-Canada border, which as the film states at the beginning, remains the only undefended border in the world."
Old War Time Classic
Roger Kennedy | 09/04/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)

"While it bit heavy-handed for today perhaps, this fine movie provides some interestig viewing and amusing portraits. Olivier's cameo as a Qubecois is highly hilarious, and worth seeing for its humor. The German sub-crew are portrayed as hardend Nazi's as they struugle across the depths of Canada attempting to reach a still neautral US. War time scenes of Canada and Canadian outlook at the time are interesting, but will probably be lost on most viewers today. Leslie Howard does a classic scripted scene as a neutral rustic turned into anti-Nazi patriot. Again, much here is pretty standard fare for 1940s war propaganda films, but the acting is solid, and the Germans are not all shown as fanatics. Worth seeing as a period piece, for some good acting, and for lesser known roles by well known actors."