Dark Journey (1937)

Sweden is a small country, at least in terms of population, and very much less significant than we would perhaps sometimes like to think ourselves.

As a Swede, it interests me very much to see how foreigners’ prejudices about us are reflected when Swedes or Sweden are mentioned in popular media. Not only is it amusing to see what others think about us; it is also sobering to realize that our own prejudices are probably quite as gross and exaggerated.

Sweden is quite often mentioned in foreign movies (an entire web site, Alla Talar Svenska, is devoted to the subject). In fact, if we had to give out all the Nobel prizes that have been awarded in movies, the Nobel committee would go broke in a matter of minutes. But it is rare indeed to find a foreign film where most of the action is set in Sweden. British Dark Journey (1937) is such a film.

Vivien Leigh in Dark Journey (1937)

Dark Journey was made at a time when Europe was preparing for the coming World War II. The dark clouds were plainly visible, yet it would not do to openly criticize a foreign power. But it was perfectly acceptable to make a historical movie, so several World War I dramas were made around this period. Thus could the Germans be made the enemy without actually pointing a finger.

Vivien Leigh, before she became famous in Hollywood, plays French girl Madeleine who owns an expensive clothes shop in Stockholm. She meets Conrad Veidt who plays a German agent on a mission for his country. In spite of their countries being at war, the two start to fall in love. Entaglements ensue, both at the personal and international levels.

Dark Journey is not a remarkable film by any means, but it is not bad either. From what I can tell, several sets and situations actually reflect what upperclass Stockholm might have looked like in the 1910s (though except for some mood-setting shots of Stockholm just at the beginning, nothing is filmed on location). The actors deliver what they are expected to, and the story is original enough to keep the interest up all the way to the end. The best thing about it may be the excellent soundtrack by Richard Addinsell. Too bad this was probably never released on record.

This film is best enjoyed with a few glasses of ice-cold punsch, a Swedish liqueur which was popular at the time when this movie is set. As far as I can remember, “Skål!” is the only Swedish word spoken in the film.

Vivien Leigh and Conrad Veidt in Dark Journey (1937)

Dark Journey
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Year: 1937
Running time: 1 h 16 min
Director: Victor Saville
Stars: Conrad Veidt, Vivien Leigh
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (720×616)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: Cinepack (700 M)


Non-Stop New York (1937)

On this day in history, exactly one hundred years ago, Igor Sikorsky braved the dangers faced by every early airman and made the world’s first flight in a four-engined aircraft. At the time, many people did not believe the news, thinking that an aircraft of such dimensions (27 m wingspan) could never get off the ground. But Sikorsky’s plane proved its worth, and eventually developed into just about every heavy passenger and cargo aircraft known to the world. (Sikorsky’s was a bi-plane, but otherwise the basic design still holds.)

Exactly twenty-four years later, the world’s first commercial transatlantic roundtrip was in its final phase (completed on May 14, 1937). That event probably helped to inspire the movie Non-Stop New York, which reminds us that Sikorsky’s design is not the only possible solution. At least not in the imagination of film-makers.

Non-Stop New York is a fairly straight-forward thriller, quite light and typical of the 30s. The plot is simple (but not stupid, mind), the dialogue is well-paced and the actors are good. In particular Anna Lee shines in the leading role. What sets it apart, however, is a touch of science fiction. The film is set two years into the future (1939), because the plot leads up to a transatlantic passenger flight which is the setting for the second half, and transatlantic passenger flights just did not happen in 1937. (Actually they did, with rigid airships, but the Hindenburg disaster that same year probably did not inspire the script writer to use that kind of vehicle.)

Robert Stevenson's Non-Stop New York (1937)

Notice how the shadows in the above image fall differently on the plane and on the ground.

In one respect the film was rather prophetic, because the world’s first transatlantic passenger flight was indeed made in 1939, but the design and scale of the movie’s aircraft came to surpass reality by far. The plane in the movie has spacious cabins, a bar, dining room, and even an outside observation deck! Its interior reminds more of a miniature ocean liner than an airplane.

But while there is a touch of sci-fi, it is no more than a touch. In terms of mood and intent, this is a pure romantic thriller. As such, it stands on its own and is well worth watching. The curiosity factor is just an added bonus.

This film is best enjoyed in anticipation of a long flight, to get in the right mood.

John Loder and Anna Lee in Non-Stop New York (1937)

Non-Stop New York
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Year: 1937
Running time: 1 h 37 min
Director: Robert Stevenson
Stars: Anna Lee, John Loder
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (720×528)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: DivX (690 M)