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NBooth   

Based on the comments in this thread, it seems like we have a unanimous agreement to watch 49th Parallel next. Accordingly, I'm starting a thread; discussion can/will begin on 1-July. In the meantime, here's the IMDB page and two essays to get us started, both from Criterion:

"49th Parallel: The War Effort" By Charles Barr

"49th Parallel" By Bruce Eder

I'll poke around and see what else I can come up with around the time discussion starts.

The movie isn't included with the Criterion Collection on Hulu, but it is on Amazon US (as well, of course, as existing on DVD), so it shouldn't be too hard to track down. I'm also seeing it on YouTube with the claim that it's in public domain, though whether that's true is more than I can say. 

Looking forward to discussing this one with you guys; I've had a copy since Peter mentioned it a while back in the thread on WWII films, but I've not watched it (which is actually one of the reasons I'm thrilled that this one got the consensus).

Here's the trailer:

 

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NBooth   

And it's July. I'll be watching this over the weekend. Looking forward to discussing it with you guys!

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And it's Canada Day today!

Apparently the entire film is on YouTube (whoever posted it claims the film is in the public domain now; I have no idea if that's true, but after 75 years it *should* be!):

 

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Haven't had a chance to re-watch the film yet -- busy weekend -- but I zipped ahead in that movie to see if the scene set in Banff (on the border between B.C. and Alberta, in the Rockies) might be taking place on Canada Day (and thus exactly 75 years ago this weekend). Instead, it looks like the scene in Banff is taking place on something called "Indian Day". I Googled that and came up with this article, which might be useful/informative:

Banff Indian Days affirmed stereotypes, reinforced culture

The first Banff Indian Days was held in the late 19th Century as a way to entertain tourists trapped in Banff by spring flooding that destroyed the railway tracks. It remained one of Banff’s main tourist attractions right through to its end in 1978.

While tourists flocked to the grounds to see “real Indians,” the Stoney Nakoda, whose traditional territory included the Rocky Mountains subverted the annual event and used it to their advantage despite controls white organizers and park administrators placed upon them according to Jonathan Clapperton, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Alberta, during the seventh annual Chiniki Lecture in First Nations Hi Stoney-Nakoda and Banff National Park held at the Whyte Museum March 22.

“The event drew thousands at its peak. It was roughly a three to five day spectacle and reportedly it offered a glimpse of how real Indians lived 100 years ago, that was the stated purpose,” Clapperton said during during the event presented by the History Graduates’ Student Union at the University of Calgary and Stoney Tribal Administration. “Banff Indian Days was constructed to temporarily welcome Stoney-Nakoda back to the park in a ritual considered safe by onlookers, while asserting a broader role for themselves within the park and settler-colonial society.”

The popular literature used Banff Indian Days as evidence of aboriginal support for the national parks and all that it stood for, when in fact, the largely positive narratives failed to consider how the national parks affected aboriginal people.

“It failed to acknowledge that the same people who organized it were also the same ones against aboriginal hunting in the national park,” Clapperton said. . . .

I find this all interesting in light of how the film presents the *Nazis* as invaders (I believe the American title of the film was, in fact, The Invaders) and the "Indians" as imposing, quasi-authoritative figures whose mere gaze can convict or expose the guilty Nazis in the crowd. It is also interesting in light of how the Nazis openly try to convince the Quebecois characters that they can "liberate" the francophones from anglophone dominance, whereas there is no similar attempt to divide and conquer here. The film, in a sense, puts the Natives on a pedestal, but in a way that denies them the approachability that we see with the fur trappers and the Hutterite community, etc. -- so it arguably dehumanizes them even as it includes them in its portrait of Canada and casts them in a positive light. Still, as Harvey Fierstein would say, visibility at any cost...?

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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Froggy   

With regard to the its treatment of Banff Indian Days, the film takes the further step of explicitly recognizing its phoniness, through the Leslie Howard character:

"My specialty is Indians. This has been a hunting ground of theirs for generations."
"Then I ... I suppose you were at Banff today."
"For Indian Day?  No, no, no.  That's just for tourists."

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NBooth   

Just watched this. Initial thoughts:

1. Obviously, I come at this movie from an Americanist perspective, so my thoughts turned to The War in American Culture, and specifically Lary May's essay "Making the American Consensus," which discusses platoon movies and the way these Hollywood films self-consciously featured ethnically diverse platoons as a way of contrasting America with the monolithic Nazis (Erenberg and Hirsch extend May's discussion to Lifeboat and Ellery Queen implicitly does something similar in the invocations of Whitman in Calamity Town, and other US propaganda got in on it, too, as seen in the attached image). May argues that this portrayal served to elide racial and ethnic tensions at home by positing that racial and ethnic diversity was the strength that would help the Allies win the War (and counter the Nazi propaganda to the contrary).

americans all (2).jpg

49th Parallel makes the same argument, both in terms of the action (the road-movie element) and visually (as when the trapper, the "Eskimo," and the outpost head are framed to form a trio of racial-and-ethnic diversity in the face of the Nazis). The "Indian Day" sequence--which, incidentally, reminds me of similar setups in Hitchcock, though the one that springs immediately to mind is from the much-later North by Northwest--might fit in there, but--as you observe--the Indians are "Othered" in a way that the other diverse groups are not, necessarily. This Othering does play into the Cooperesque vision of the Indian as a noble but distant (because dead) culture [and it goes from Cooper onward, at least in US literature, finding its ultimate form in the "crying Indian" anti-littering campaign].

2. There's some interesting arguments going on here about Capitalism--namely, every setting except the city is explicitly either non-Capitalist (the Hutterites) or differently-Capitalist (the trading post, which doesn't deal in money; Philip Armstrong Scott's High Culture, which is in some ways above Capitalism entirely). And even in the city, the single exchange of money--the glasses for the seven dollars and then the seven dollars for food--is undercut by the German commander's observation that "these Canadians give everything away." (Oh, and there's that conductor who lets Brock onto the train for free!)

Now, I'm away from my library atm, so I can't really dig around, but this seems like a move to preempt the idea that Western Democracy, because of its alliance to Capitalism, is inherently exploitative--which I think was the sort of thing Nazis would say, though I may very well be wrong about that. Again, I'm an Americanist here, so my first thought goes to It's a Wonderful Life (1946), which identifies the American small town as a location of "soft" or "nice" Capitalism. In Parallel, the entire country of Canada is a soft Capitalist utopia (of sorts); the Nazis, with their mechanistic, exploitative minds, cannot understand a world like that, which is part of the reason they are defeated.

3. Points 1 and 2 are connected, of course, since this soft Capitalism occurs between members of diverse ethnic groups like the Hutterites, etc. Again, diversity is strength, communion, connectedness--while the Nazi's belief in racial connectedness is utterly false, as is most clearly seen in the way they tear each other apart.

4. This movie isn't terribly subtle. If I were going on that score, I would say that it's eclipsed by Casablanca, at least insofar as both movies are positioned in part as propaganda to encourage US involvement (the crisis on the train at the end of the movie is the most explicit example here, but the whole idea of going to the United States because the US isn't in the War is pretty clear-cut). The narrative structure of the movie is built around showing how everyone is in danger from the Nazis and examining what their "proper" response should be. Outcasts like the French Canadian trapper, ethnic Germans like the Hutterites, high-culture dilettantes like Scott, ordinary soldiers stuck on the homefront like Brock--they're all inclined not to get involved but all wind up getting involved anyway and showing what the proper Allied response should be (Leslie Howard, by the way, is absolutely entrancing in his performance as Scott). This...isn't subtle at all, and it's made less so by the dialogue and some of the action (and now we burn all your art and literature and research!). Lack of subtlety isn't necessarily a bad thing, mind.

5. One of the ways this movie is subtle--as one of those linked articles up top points out--is the portrayal of the Nazi soldiers. I actually think that aspect alone gives the movie a nudge from the world of mere propaganda to the world of good (I mean, aesthetically good) propaganda. With the possible exception of the commander, these Nazis aren't universally evil monsters; they're mostly bad men, to be sure, but they are bad for their own reasons (and, in one case, not so much bad as forced into a bad situation).

6. Nick the Eskimo is played by Ley On, a Chinese actor with only eight credits to his name. I was kind of hoping that his 1930 performance in a film by Richard Eichberg would mean that he would be tied to both Allied and Axis propaganda, but apparently Eichberg left Germany to escape the Nazi regime. Ley On was also in Black Narcissus, which is on at least two iterations of our Top 100 list. 

I'll probably think of some more stuff. I actually own the DVD for this month's movie, so I'll be digging around in the commentary and special features in the coming weeks.

Edited by NBooth

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NBooth   

[Actually--again, riffing off the articles up top--one of the other things that makes this move more than "just" a propaganda flick is the number of layers of propaganda at work. There's the pep-up-the-Allies propaganda, the "one Canada" propaganda, the push to get the US into the War.... 49th Parallel is like a WWII propaganda onion, in that way.]

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Froggy   

Lieutenant Hirtth's speech to Hutterites brought to mind Chaplin's speech at the end of The Great Dictator, which came out the year before.  Both speeches rate high up there as ill-conceived in terms of believably advancing the plot (although Hirth's was at least in character), but beyond that both invoked the sun that would come after the present storm. Compare the Jewish Barber's heavenly sun that provides the light of hope:

"Wherever you are, look up, Hannah. The clouds are lifting. The sun is breaking through. We are coming out of the darkness into the light. We are coming into a new world, a kindlier world, where men will rise above their hate, their greed and brutality.  Look up, Hannah. The soul of man has been given wings, and at last he is beginning to fly. He is flying into the rainbow -- into the light of hope, into the future, the glorious future that belongs to you, to me, and to all of us."

with Hirth's earthly sun, Adolf Hitler, the symbol of racial superiority:

"You who formed a little stronghold of our people here in Canada, you will have your share of the happiness and prosperity that is waiting for us all when the storm is over and the sun rises. that mighty sun which will give us everything we need in life."

"What sun are you talking about, friend?"

"I am talking of the greatest idea in history, the supremacy of the Nordic race, the German people.  I am talking of the being whose name I am certain lives in every heart, whose name hangs on all our lips whether we can shout it to the world or only whisper it in one another's ears."

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NBooth   

Interesting connection. It's also worth noting that the Chaplin speech is an instance of seriousness in a comedy, while the lieutenant's speech is actually played for laughs. The Hutterite response isn't meant to be funny, but the whole mistaking-a-religious-commune-for-a-Nazi-cell manifestly is

Edited by NBooth

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The film's premise is somewhat limited by the film's desire to function as propaganda. It never quite complicates its characters or conflict enough to become truly fascinating, despite many opportunities to do so.

One element that surprised me: Ralph Vaughan Williams provides the score! 

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Just wondering: If this film is propaganda, what about a film like Colonel Blimp, which I don't normally hear described that way? Winston Churchill famously didn't like that film, but there are scenes in there in which German characters argue that Britain absolutely *must* stand against Hitler now, no matter how morally compromised some of Britain's other recent military ventures may have been. (And if memory serves, the trailer for that film openly cited the fact that a film like that could be made in Britain during the war as an example of what made Britain great -- sort of a meta-propaganda, if you will.)

I have always thought that one of the remarkable things about 49th Parallel is the way it admits some of the less-fortunate aspects of Canadian society -- including the German internment camps that existed during the war -- even as it propagandized in favour of the Canadian side of that war. (Yes, regarding the internment camps, the Hutterites direct all their ire at *the Nazis* and not at the Canadian government. But the film still admits that they exist, and that innocent people are being sent to those camps.)

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NBooth   

FWIW, when I say "propaganda" I mean it in the most value-neutral way possible. Casablanca, which I mentioned above, is propaganda.

I'm not familiar enough with the Canadian war effort--or Canadian history in general--to pick out the less-fortunate aspects you mention; from this US-based perspective, a lot of that was invisible. 

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Froggy   

Also worth checking out after 49th Parallel is Powell and Pressburger's next film, One of Our Aircraft is Missing, another wartime propaganda film also about a group of military men caught behind enemy lines (this time a British bomber crew in Holland).  It's on YouTube:

 

 

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Evan C   

I ordered this three weeks ago via inter library loan, and it still hasn't come in. So I will be participating, as soon as I get the DVD.

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NBooth   
7 hours ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

Well, the U.S. had German internment camps, too.

Yeah, I'm aware of U.S. camps, but I wasn't really all up on Canada (though I seem to recall doing some googling on it back when I was watching BOMB GIRLS) 

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Evan C   

The film struck me first and foremost as a piece of propaganda to bolster enthusiasm for the Canadian/American/British war effort. And along those lines, I thought the Nazis were pretty flat and one-dimensional as characters, especially the commander and the last surviving officer. They were easy to hate, which would certainly have ginned up the war effort, but I didn't find them particularly compelling as characters. I suppose the film did kind of suggest that they had been brainwashed by the Third Reich, which created a little bit of sympathy for them, but that concept really wasn't explored or developed nearly as much as it should have been.

As an episodic road trip, I think the film is more or less successful. The segment with Leslie Howard was great, not only for comparing the Nazis to primitive savages to their fury, but also for highlighting Scott's calm dignity as a more excellent response to violence. It was also fun to see a young Glynis Johns. However, it was very odd to have protagonists that we're supposed to root against. Basically, we follow the Nazis through their road trip while rooting for them to fail. I wouldn't even call them anti-heroes, because that term suggests a character we identify with on some level even as he makes terrible choices that we oppose. The only Nazis we ever identify with are killed off pretty quickly.

On a technical level, I noticed a lot of tracking shots, and I was wondering whether this was one of the first films to make prominent use of the technique.

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Oh, tracking shots were utilized extensively long before this film. German directors like Murnau and Pabst utilized them to great effect. (While I haven't seen it, it's my understanding that 1928's The Crowd, directed by Vidor, features one of the greatest tracking shots of all time.)

In general, it seems to me that the dynamism of film form in the 20s and 30s is tragically underappreciated. The notion that dynamic cinema began with Citizen Kane is rubbish.

Edited by Ryan H.

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Evan C   

I've usually heard Max Ophuls credited with "inventing" the tracking shot, but I was thinking it had to be earlier than that.

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Ryan H. wrote:
: In general, it seems to me that the dynamism of film form in the 20s and 30s is tragically underappreciated.

I've long been under the impression that films in the '20s are recognized for their dynamism but films in the early '30s tended to be held back by the introduction of bulky sound technology (and the need to ensure that actors were always located next to the microphones etc.). That being said, I remember some really dynamic battle footage in All Quiet on the Western Front, which I think was made in 1931 -- only four years after The Jazz Singer -- but I imagine that a lot of those sequences were essentially shot silent, and then sound effects and whatnot were added in post-production. (I believe this is how the chariot race in the 1959 version of Ben-Hur was done, too.)

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After a much busier month than anticipated, finally watched this. Its lack of a clear protagonist makes it immediately off-putting, as Evan pointed out--it's a road trip where we're made to hope/anticipate the capture or demise of each Nazi character, few of which are ever fleshed out beyond the baker or the engineer. Even Hirth's character isn't truly explored, and never really changes--he's a Nazi cipher, and remains consistently deplorable.

While it wasn't the strongest chapter in the episodic narrative, the Hutterite community scenes were fascinating to me as filmic depictions of an alternative culture which appears to be counter to socialism, fascism, capitalism and democracy. Having served as a pastor in a Mennonite Brethren church and learning more about the Anabaptist history, it's refreshing to see such an portrayal on film, although it would have been interesting to explore more of the pacifist/peacemaking theology of the group. I sort of wanted the film to remain there, with the Nazis and Hutterites forced to figure out how to deal with one another's opposing lifestyles and beliefs. It's also the only portion of the film with a female character.

Overall, worth seeing if only for Laurence Olivier's outrageous French-Canadian accent.

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On 7/20/2016 at 9:04 PM, Peter T Chattaway said:

Ryan H. wrote:
: In general, it seems to me that the dynamism of film form in the 20s and 30s is tragically underappreciated.

I've long been under the impression that films in the '20s are recognized for their dynamism but films in the early '30s tended to be held back by the introduction of bulky sound technology (and the need to ensure that actors were always located next to the microphones etc.). 

In general, that may be so, but the early sound films of Pabst and von Sternberg suggest that the bulkiness of sound technology was not an insurmountable obstacle.

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