Sublime early Archers, spy thriller as dance of Eros.
darragh o'donoghue | 10/22/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"'Contrabond' is only the second of the mighty Powell and Pressburger collaborations, and already we can see perfectly formed the unique, treasurable characteristics of their exhilerating genius. A tale of spies tryig to outfoil the Nazis, if the film was intended as a propaganda effort, than it goes off the standard rails pretty quickly. true, the central narrative arc, of an indifferent neutral forced to take a moral stand during the war, inspired by romance, is similar to the later 'Casablanca' (in which star Conrad Veidt featured) and many Humphrey Bogart films of the 1940s. But it is in comparison to another future Bogart film that 'Contraband''s true flavour lies - 'the Big Sleep'. Ken Russell has called it ' a light, romantic comedy with bondage overtones', and the relationship between the two leads begins with ship captain Veidt threatening to put intransigent passenger Valerie Hobson in irons. Later scenes include the pair being roped toether in a dark basement spied on by Nazi voyeurs (including a coded lesbian), an escape involving Hobson's long legs as a knife, and badinage on a bus of flagrantly transparent doubles entendres. the emphasis on grills, lifts and confined spaces, or fetishistic imagery such as an all-female nightclub band whose legs are mannequins', or the surreal attic stuffed with plaster busts of Chamberlain, add to this sexually fantastic atmosphere. this is a spy thriller in which genre mechanics and development are always erotic, and in which the centre of activity is appropriately a cinema. you could look at 'Contraband' as a benevolent version of Powell's later, darker masterpiece 'Peeping Tom'.this is not to say the wartime setting is mere backdrop. Like many of the Archers' films, there is a strong documentary element underpinning the fantasy, with a gorgeous montage of ships that could have come from an (unusually good) Grierson factual film (or Powell's earlier 'Red Ensign'). There is a rare vision of the London blackout with its practical difficulties (providing the film with its metaphors of light and darkness). Magically, solid, urban London is turned by the enterprising captain into a navigable ocean. Most characteristic of Powell and Pressburger is the tacit opposition between Nazism, with its nihilistic form of nationalism, and the beautiful portrait of the Danish emigres. this at first seems to be a pretext for stereotypes and jokes about modern Vikings, but it soon becomes apparent that the Archers are celebrating this form of nationalism, free from blustering jingoism, one at ease in and with other cultures, one based on shared experience, history, friendship, loyalty and memory, on the civilised bonds of culture - food and music. A remarkable film, with some of the most extraordinary, emotive camerawork and idiosyncratic editing in British cinema."
One Of The First Of The Powell-Pressburger Films
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 10/07/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"It's November, 1939, and Captain Anderson (Conrad Veidt) has a problem. His neutral Danish freighter, sailing from the U.S. to Denmark, has been stopped by the British navy and forced to an English port while its cargo is inspected. He has several passengers on board who are forbidden to disembark. He and his first mate (Hay Petrie) are invited that night to dinner with the British officers of the port. They receive two passes enabling them to leave the ship. As they get ready, Anderson discovers the passes are missing...and so are two of the passengers, Mrs. Sorensen (Valerie Hobson) and Mr. Pidgeon (Esmond Knight). Yet apparently neither knew each other or had even conversed during the long sea voyage. Anderson is determined to bring them back to his ship. He realizes they must be on their way to London and sets out to stop them. Within hours he finds himself entangled with Nazi spies, British agents, Danish waiters and thuggish heavies. In fact, he finds himself in the middle of a stylish, funny, romantic and patriotic espionage adventure which takes place almost entirely in the blacked-out streets of London and in some fine looking restaurants and nightclubs.
This was the first movie Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger fully collaborated on, following The Spy in Black the year before. With Spy, Pressburger had been assigned the writing job and he and Powell realized how much they agreed on the kind and style of movies they wanted to make. With Contraband, they set to work on the movie together. They cemented their partnership with The 49th Parallel (1941) and followed it with One of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1942). In 1943, with The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, they had become The Archers, agreeing to take joint and equal credit for the writing, directing and producing of their movies. And what movies they were. Through 1949, The Archers created, in addition to Blimp, A Canterbury Tale (1944), I Know Where I'm Going (1945), A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Black Narcissus (1947), The Red Shoes (1948) and The Small Back Room (1949). I can't think of any individual or pair of movie makers who were responsible for so many creative, idiosyncratic, different and just plain great movies as these two.
Contraband, like all their movies, doesn't fit the norm of any genre film. One critic said of it, "It's worth thinking about how such a lighthearted film could be made out of such a dire moment in British history...but it's not to missed." Conrad Veidt, the great actor who fled Germany in 1933, plays Captain Andersen as a stern, imposing man who has a taste for adventure and a liking for a smart, resourceful woman like Mrs. Sorensen...who, of course, is not married, is not named Sorensen, and is as brave and smart as they come. The movie is fast-paced and uses the dark streets of London at night to great effect. Powell builds amusing and effective set pieces which keep driving the story forward. I liked a lot Andersen and Mrs. Sorensen having a duel of a dinner at Erik Skold's restaurant, the escape from the darkened room, Andersen's recruitment of the Danish waiters and his navigation skills with a map of London to locate where he and Mrs. Sorensen had been held. Powell uses the busts of the Patriotic Plaster Products Co. for a dramatic and amusing shootout. If you look closely, you can briefly see a handful of actors, mostly unbilled, some in their first movie roles, who later became well known, such as Leo Genn, Deborah Kerr, Bernard Miles, Milo O'Shea and Peter Bull.
Contraband is highly recommended if you are a fan of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. It's also recommended if you just like well-made, amusing, romantic espionage movies. There are no extras. The DVD picture looks better than average, but the movie qualifies for a major restoration."
An Intriguing Good Time
Eugene L. Stickley | Havertown, PA United States | 10/18/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a movie that just clicks. It is just funny enough while also being just suspenseful enough with just enough of a nice romance. It opens with some close ups of some very real ocean freighters which are just grubby enough to know that they are not staged. Conrad Veidt, probably best known as the cruel Gestapo Major in Casablanca does comedy quite while while looking the part of an iron tailed sea captain. Valerie Hobson is so cute and so funny that she also passes as a secret agent. See this one and enjoy yourself."
Conrad Veidt rocks
Digger's Domain | Minneapolis, MN | 06/24/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The 'old brands' are dead, so the newspapers say. Owners of copyrights of The Three Stooges are desperately trying to get young people interested in them again, the Looney Tunes gang are being tricked out in hip-hop clothes (ick ick ick) to try to interest todays kids.....well, Conrad Veidt needs no such crutches. True, the movie is in black and white which means today's youth won't watch it...til they grow a little older and learn that blacker is better (sort of like Gene Wilder and his Young Frankenstein.) It's WWII and Veidt, a German actor, here plays a Danish ship captain (have to explain his accent) whose ship is halted overnight by customs on a through voyage. A passenger (Valerie Hobson) jumps ship and Captain Andersen (Veidt) is determined to get her back at all costs. They arrive via train in London in the middle of a blackout (one of the film's original titles) and Hobson proceeds to lead Veidt on a merry chase. An excellent screen duo, if you like this movie you absolutely must get their first pairing, The Spy In Black. That one will have you in tears at the ending!"