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This is the tale of life in a British port in the first year of World War II. Spies and smugglers abound in the blackout and unreal shore life of the "phoney war" (before the shooting started). Written by
Steve Crook <email@example.com>
Just watched this on TCM, where it appeared in their day-long tribute to Veidt - parenthetically, their August programs featuring one actor per day have unearthed some marvelous stuff (eg, early Ann Dvorak). TCM aired it as "Contraband", the original British title - and it's a very British piece indeed. The plot is complex & often nonsensical, but I don't think one ever watches Michael Powell films for tidy screenplays. Veidt and Hobson encounter one another on his ship, and then whiz across London, first pursuing/eluding one another, then working together to undo a German spy ring. Much hugger-mugger, with a multitude of British character actors working in blackout darkness and then brightly-lit, often chaotic interiors (train compartments, restaurants, ship's lounges, nightclubs, elevators ....) Veidt and Hobson are charming in tandem, with a grownup sexual tension that for this viewer was a striking contrast to the more standard youthful leads of that time (and ours). As other commenters have noted, the filmmakers include a subtle thread of delight in bondage, mild fetishism, etc (eg,Hobson's shoes & feet during her captivity). Ah, the British. Clearly made on a budget, the entire production nonetheless looks & feels terrific - gritty shipboard all-male scenes, a couple of nightclub production numbers that have to be seen to be believed, a swell Art Deco townhouse - and underneath it all, maneuvering through the London blackout as a necessary given, a condition of life that the Brits seem to take for granted as the darkest days of the war approach. I had never seen Veidt so sympathetic - here a memorable leading man, versus his more well-know villains..And I was until now unfamiliar with Hay Petrie, here in a double role as Veidt's shipboard second-in-command, and that character's brother, a volatile (& hilarious) Danish restaurateur (don't ask!) All in all - a delight.
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