Monday, 18 March 2013

No.175 : Went the Day Well?

Went the Day Well? at the IMDb

Some proto ‘The Eagle Has Landed’  action now as we cast an eye over this 1942 World War 2 thriller. We open with a country yokel marvelling at a tombstone in an English village churchyard. The grave has German names and he assumes we are interested in how they came to be here. Of course we are, so we fade back to a time before the Jerries were planted.

The sleepy village is all excited when 60 soldiers appear with orders to be billeted in the area. There is great interest as they are parcelled out, especially by one old bint who sadly only gets one of the two men she applied for - well there is rationing on. We the viewer know they are in fact Nazi infiltrators who plan to set up some jamming equipment prior to a full blown invasion which is planned for a few days later.

At first the locals are happy to pitch in but soon suspicions are arisen when foreign chocolate and continental number sevens start to make their unwelcome presence known. The local toff is of course on the side of the bad guys and even when the cover is blown he still tries to thwart all attempts to raise the alarm.

The Germans manage to herd the townsfolk into the church and in a scene reminiscent of ‘Dad’s Army’ start to dish out the threats. Of course the English won’t be cowed and several attempts to break out of the blockaded village are spoiled by bad luck alone. Eventually the good word gets out and the battle is taken to the manor house - will the villagers save the day or will the Boshe lay down the rebelling townsfolk? Given this is an English film dating from 1942 I’ll let you have two guesses!

Although a virtual propaganda film there is a lot to like in this B&W drama, that has more of an edge than many films from the era. For a start the violence is pretty brutal with axes and the like used to dispatch the evil interlopers. It’s not all one way however, with every heroic kill matched by a tragic one perpetrated by the quietly evil Germans.

The cast are largely unknowns, apart from Thora Hird, but they do a good job as convincing townsfolk, slowly building the will to strike back at their Kraut captors. The plot was somewhat predictable but must have been ground-breaking at the time. How Jack Higgins managed to partially rewrite it as ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ suggests someone at the copyright office was asleep at their desk - even down to the churchyard scenes that bookend the film, the whole narrative of the later book is near intact.

You could argue that the characters are thinly drawn along the lines of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ but there is a war on and it was good to see the non-combatants stepping up to the plate to save the day. I did like the evil lord of the manor collaborator best, who managed to perpetrate greater and greater outrages in every scene he appeared. He was always going to get his comeuppance and it was all the more welcome for it being drawn out.

For a 1940’s film the body count for both the home and away side was massive with plenty of brutal dispatches to keep the scorers happy. I'm sure the message was one of ‘do your bit’ but I just hope many war time village cinemas didn't end up as slaughterhouses as everyone who looked a bit foreign was drowned in the popcorn machine!

The film, which is based on a Graham Greene short story, is a minor and ground breaking classic and well worth your time.

Best Bit - Lady Driver Suffers Egg On Face
W Score : 18/23

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