49th Parallel (1941)

One of the first films made by the famous British team of writers/producers/directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (jointly known as “The Archers”) was the World War II propaganda 49th Parallel.

Finlay Currie, Laurence Olivier and Eric Portman in 49th Parallel (1941)

The film begins with a German submarine that tries to hide in Hudson Bay after being hunted by the Canadian navy. The submarine is eventually caught up with and sunk, but a small group of survivors start to make their long way across the enormous nation of Canada, trying somehow to find a way to neutral or allied territory.

The film has an interesting structure. It is basically a series of short stories, strung together by the evil protagonist in the shape of Leutnant Hirth. Hirth is well played (though not exactly delicately) by Eric Portman. As he and his small group of Germans go from one place to the next, they also move from story to story. And there is where we meet the true heroes, played by Laurence Olivier, Leslie Howard, Raymond Massey, and others. They are true-blooded Canadians, who stand up for their country, against oppression and tyranny.

49th Parallel in some ways forms an interesting counterweight to One of Our Aircraft Is Missing, Powell’s and Pressburger’s joint project from the following year. Both films share the theme of a crew that has lost their vessel and now have to make their way through enemy territory. The two stories share many similarities, but through the filter of propaganda they still emerge as completely different films. They are also very good, so I can only recommend that you download and watch both.

This film is best enjoyed for its powerful and well played drama. Even though Powell and Pressburger were yet to develop their true mastership in film making, we can already see many of the techniques that were to be used to make some of the best films in the history of cinema. 49th Parallel may not be quite up to that standard, but it is still excellent.

Peter Moore and Leslie Howard in 49th Parallel (1941)

49th Parallel
Download link
Year: 1941
Running time: 2 h 2 min
Director: Michael Powell
Stars: Laurence Olivier, Raymond Massey, Leslie Howard
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (664×502, not counting black border)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG4 (1.2 G)

One of Our Aircraft is Missing (1942)

The Internet Archive offers a tremendous scope of films. But of course there is more of some things, less of others. Many of my favourite film makers, such as Bergman and Kurosawa, are not represented at all. Others, like Keaton and Hitchcock, have many titles to their credit in the Archive.

Then there are some favourites that are only represented by a single film, or just a couple. Among these are the British producers, writers and directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. One of their few joint productions in the Archive is One of Our Aircraft Is Missing, a film about a downed bomber crew during World War II and their attempts to make it back home.

Crashing model of Vickers Wellington bomber in One of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1942)

Powell and Pressburger were together responsible for creating some of the all-time classics in the history of cinema, such as A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Black Narcissus (1947) and The Red Shoes (1948).

They worked together mainly through the 1940s and 1950s, and formed a joint production company called The Archers. Each had his own strengths; Pressburger did most of the writing while Powell did most of the directing, yet they were jointly responsible for the entire creative effort throughout each production. These kinds of cooperative efforts are rare in movie making.

One of Our Aircraft is Missing was one of their earliest joint productions. It is a propaganda film commissioned by the British Ministry of Information, but unlike many other propaganda films, this one is actually good. The script is not as tight as in some of the duo’s later productions, and Powell had not yet perfected the visual language which was to become his watermark. Yet it is a powerful movie with strong and effective characterisations.

The propaganda is easy to overlook, or to become fascinated by. On the surface, it mostly consists of a couple of patriotic speaches, though there is plenty going on more subtly, if you care to look for it.

This film is best enjoyed with the awareness that you will be spoon-fed with the naturally heroic characteristics of the British and the Dutch.

Hugh Burden, Eric Portman, Hugh Williams, Bernard Miles, Godfrey Tearle, Pamela Brown in One of Our Aircraft is Missing (1942)

One of Our Aircraft Is Missing
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Year: 1942
Running time: 1 h 38 min
Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Stars: Hugh Burden, Eric Portman, Pamela Brown
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (720×576)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: DivX (700 M)