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(1940)

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Marvelous light-hearted spy adventure
ekarle12 April 2000
The plot is well paced and fun, although a bit convoluted. But, Conrad Veidt and Valerie Hobson are the hidden pleasures in this film. She's beautiful and witty. He's tall (very), handsome, and debonaire. Together they're very sexy: their relationship here is reminiscent of that of William Powell and Myrna Loy in the Thin Man and Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in North-By-Northwest. The scene in which they break the bonds in which the villains have tied them is wonderfully erotic. Above all, Contraband demonstrates how film makers (outside of Powell and Pressberger) missed the boat in not taking advantage of Veidt's sophisticated persona, understated acting skills, and comedic flair.
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Strange and v ....
jack patrick23 August 2011
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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7/10
A delightful war time romantic romp, with just a touch of healthy S&M
max von meyerling21 May 2005
What a delightful film this is. It's true that this film is concocted out of the same ingredients of contemporary Hitchcock film - spy suspense and romance between stand offish lovers wrapped up in a crust of a comedy of manners but it's interesting to see the results from a different chef. There is even a climactic scene in a factory which makes busts of Neville Chamberlain. The little sexual mushrooms that Hitchcock likes to strew through his films are here even more perverse with particular emphasis on bondage and pain. Here is Conrad Veidt at his most affable and most romantic, hardly the same man who pisses ice cubes he was in Casablanca, his most indelible role. Valerie Hobson is the perfect combination of repressed middle class woman and devil may care adventuress. They have a brilliant chemistry together, sort of a neo-lithic Steed and Peel. It remains to be seen if any film today can ever capture this type of pairing, with the forthcoming MR. & MRS. SMITH (itself an old Hitchcock title) promising a cartoon like special effects and martial arts based attempt at mutual destruction. O tempes, o mores.

The action can be a little more than the merely concocted. As in farce, people do certain things in certain ways, its seems, just to keep the story moving along. So there are massive plot holes. Its the old John Ford story, about why he didn't have the Indians simply shoot the horses in STAGECOACH (if they did there wouldn't be a movie!). There was another reason d'etre for CONTRABAND - wartime British propaganda.

CONTRABAND was made with the co-operation of two British Government ministries including the Office of Economic Warfare. It would seem that one film's goals was to create a positive sympathy among Scandinavians by having the lions share of defeating the Nazi spy ring accomplished by the hereto neutral Danes handily recruited from a restaurant evocatively named The Viking. This British hope of support was before the German invasion of Denmark and the instantaneous crumbling of Danish military defenses. The climactic fight in the factory making heroic busts of Neville Chamberlain was not meant to be ironic (a bust is used to knock out a spy followed with a Bond like quip "They said he was tough."). It is doubtful that two government ministries would have co-operated with a film which made fun of the Prime Minister during wartime. In fact all Civil servants and serving military men are seen as competent, thoughtful efficient and humane. But all of these elements are held subtly in the background, as is a virtual encyclopedia of ordinary life in London, especially the demands of the blackout.

However all these are subsidiary interests to the real focus of the film, the relationship between Veidt and Hobson. In many way this was a repackaging of their pairing in a previous Powell film, THE SPY IN BLACK, which ends, in romantic terms, unsatisfactorily, i.e. she goes back to her husband and he dies. Here they go on together, no doubt spending the next few years giving the Jerrys conniption fits, in and out of bondage. Oh yes. There is bondage, perhaps even freakier than in a Hitchcock film. There is no mistaking the B&D complete with a pillar.The good old days when you could get right to the edge and it would be read as merely the hero and heroine being tied up but no mistake, this is the real thing.
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9/10
a great pairing
Conrad Veidt and Valerie Hobson had appeared together with surprising effect in 'The Spy in Black'. They were reunited in this splendid comedy thriller with a Hitchcockian mode the following year.

Lots of action and wry humour, with a pleasing spy story set in a London blackout. Hobson plays a spy who needs to get information to the Admiralty. To do this, she steals the landing pass of the ship's skipper (Veidt) whilst the ship is in harbour for a contraband check.

Veidt follows her to London where they encounter a Nazi spy ring intent on obtaining this information. They are tied up, but Veidt escapes, and with the help of fellow Danes (Veidt is Danish in this film, and a good guy!), foils the plot.

Funny, charming, sexy and thrilling (with just a little bit of bondage!), and with a great chemistry between the two stars.

Great fun!
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10/10
A surprisingly good Hitchcockian style British thriller!
barrymn131 August 2003
I bought this movie because it was directed by Michael Powell, scripted by Powell and Emeric Pressburger, and starred Conrad Veidt and Valerie Hobson (a great important British director/producer/writer and two great stars). I knew this hailed from just before Powell & Pressburger hit their stride as THE ARCHERS. Boy, what a pleasant surprise; this is FIRST-RATE suspense/spy thriller which takes place in the early days of wartime Britian but before Pearl Harbor. It's about a Danish sea captain who's forced to follow two missing and suspicious passengers while his ship is being temporarily held by the British. What follows is a spy mystery through London during the days of Blackouts....and is ever bit as clever, amusing and suspenseful as any of Hitchcock's superb British sound films. I URGE you to check out this great and little seen British film classic.
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8/10
CONTRABAND (Michael Powell, 1940) ***1/2
MARIO GAUCI10 November 2006
This is a follow-up to THE SPY IN BLACK (1939) - utilizing the same director, writer and stars - and even better! It's described as a Hitchcockian comedy-thriller - though still every bit an "Archers" product - which only goes to show that the Master Of Suspense lost something by going to the US (the English films being more deliberately stylized); the second of 5 collaborations by the Powell/Pressburger team designed as propaganda for the war effort - each more ambitious and uncharacteristic of the typical British effort than the one before!

It's fast-paced and plot-packed, with several marvelous suspense scenes, but also excellent characterization all around - and a splendid cast: Conrad Veidt and Valerie Hobson are supported by a wonderful dual role from Hay Petrie, Esmond Knight, and even early villainous turns by Leo Genn and Peter Bull (dubbed "The Brothers Grimm" by Veidt's Captain Hans Andersen!) - with bits by Torin Thatcher and an especially nice one involving Bernard Miles; The Archers also take care to provide the chief villain (played by Raymond Lovell) with a speech impediment - though not as a means of ridiculing him.

The London locations (shot by the great Freddie Young) are superbly deployed - given an extra Expressionist edge by being largely set during a blackout (actually, the film's title in the US). The Archers would come to be known for their occasional drop in taste, already evident here in an interracial cabaret number entitled "White Negro"! The terrific climax involves a chase intercut with a free-for-all.

I had long wanted to purchase the R1 DVD but kept postponing it due to the utter lack of extras and the prohibitive price (only managing to get it through Deep Discount's recent sale on Kino products!); still, the transfer is disappointing (and yet the only way the film is available for the moment!): bright, soft and probably PAL sourced (given that the running time is only 87 minutes against the official 92 - the sleeve notes thus making the mistake of stating that it's 8 minutes, rather than 12, longer than the version originally shown in the US!).
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7/10
An Enjoyable Wartime Cat-and-mouse Intrigue
atlasmb18 January 2015
"Contraband" has been frequently compared to the works of Hitchcock, which is no surprise. There is an air of suspense and danger as the two main characters, Captain Andersen (Conrad Veidt) and Mrs. Sorensen (Valerie Hobson), traverse a British city in the darkness of a wartime blackout. The viewer is asked to accompany them, never quite knowing what forces are at play or who are the "good guys". The film also feels a little like "Casablanca", with shadowy, nefarious forces at work while the couple is drawn together emotionally.

Also, like Hitchcock, there is a very playful side to the action. The manners of society are observed while threatening subtexts are played out. Andersen and Sorensen, likewise--in the early part of the film--play a cat-and-mouse game that is enjoyable to watch.

The mechanics of the plot don't seem to matter much, like one of Hitchcock's McGuffins, and the photography seems more about style than substance. Filmed in B&W, of course, the story slinks in and out of darkened passageways, foggy ports and backrooms.

This film is a lot of fun to watch, especially if one just enjoys the action without trying to decipher the finer points of the intrigue.
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10/10
Feeling their way in the London blackout, and towards each other
robert-temple-18 June 2013
This film, released both as CONTRABAND and as BLACKOUT, is a highly superior suspense and espionage film of the immediate pre-War period. The stars are Conrad Veidt and Valerie Hobson, and the chemistry between them is almost as good as that between Bogart and Bacall in CASABLANCA (1942, in which, by the way, Veidt also appeared). Little can anyone have realized when this film was made, but Veidt had very little time left to live. He dropped dead while playing golf in 1943 at the age of only 50. Veidt and his third wife, who was Jewish, fled Germany to escape the Nazis in 1933, and settled in England. Germany's loss was England and America's gain, for Veidt, as a famous German star, had an effortless magnetism and enormous talent on screen. He lent gravitas to many a shaky part. Here he plays a Danish ship's captain, thus excusing his accent, which was of course really a German one. But the English public had little familiarity with the Danes since the Danish Vikings departed several hundred years earlier, so they did not notice the difference. (Lots of very blond people in the north-east of England are what the Danish Vikings left behind.) In the film there is a large Danish restaurant called Viking in the middle of London, where people dress in white tie for dinner and eat lots of herrings and have exotic haute cuisine and excellent wines. I wonder if any such Scandinavian gastronomic outpost ever really existed in London at any time. For a passionate herring-lover like myself, if only! (The best way to cook a herring is Scottish-style. And I bet you don't get many recipes in IMDb reviews, but here goes. Dip it in milk, roll it in organic oatmeal, gently pan-fry it in a modicum of pheasant fat, or if you can't find any then use goose fat. Allow to become brown and crisp. After eating, skin and oats and all, have tranquillizers ready to help you recover from the ecstatic culinary experience. And that is enough food for today.) This film was made before Denmark was invaded by the Nazis, so there is a great deal of Danish patriotism on display, including all the waiters and the proprietor of the Viking joining up to help Veidt and singing a patriotic Danish song. Valerie Hobson plays Mrs. Soerensen, a British divorcée whose ex-husband is Danish. In reality, she is an intrepid British spy. Veidt's Danish ship on its way back to Denmark is diverted into harbour in Britain for contraband inspection, and Valerie Hobson and a spy accomplice steal Veidt's landing permits in order to make a dash for London on their secret business. Veidt is annoyed and chases after them, but has no British money with him, which means he cannot even pay for a taxi when he arrives in London. He and Hobson end up becoming entangled first in complex spy activities, being captured and tied up by Nazi spies in London, and then become romantically entangled as well because they are irresistibly attracted to one another. So the ingredient of romance, tinged with irony, runs through the action. Valerie Hobson really shines in this film. She was amazingly beautiful at that time and what is called 'an absolute charmer'. And she has the most intense bedroom eyes, to which Veidt is far from indifferent. This film featured a number of interesting early appearances and non-appearances. Deborah Kerr got her first job in a film playing a cigarette girl, but her scenes ended up on the cutting room floor, which must have added to the attractiveness of the floor, if not to the elevation of the young actress's expectations. Leo Genn and Peter Bull, such sturdy stalwarts of the British film business over decades, appear in supporting roles. Countless of us knew Peter Bull from his astrology shop in Notting Hill Gate, where until his death in 1984, it was always amusing to go in and browse and engage him in conversation about all the old movies he had been in and hear his bombastic and witty exposes of the foibles of his colleagues and racy tales of calamities on the set and on location. He was never a shy person and relished being drolly gay. Bernard Miles fixes a pipe in this film and Milo O'Shea is an air raid warden, his first film appearance, and more fortunate than Deborah Kerr in that he was not cut out. The blackout scenes in London are very informative and interesting, being entirely accurate. One learns, for instance, that the traffic lights at night shone only through small crosses cut in the centres of the shades in front of the lights (this can be seen in a scene where Veidt and Hobson are crossing a street). The film is thus remarkably informative about the conditions of early wartime London, and thus has a considerable historical importance. For those who like shots of old naval ships, there are plenty of those to see steaming around. The snappy editing of this film is by John Seabourne, Senior, skills which were later to be used to heighten the eerie dramatic power of THE ROCKING HORSE WINNER (1949) in particular. He is certainly an under-appreciated talent of the period, who left the industry in 1959 (born in 1890, no date of death is recorded for him on IMDb) after editing 39 films, several of them classics such as I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING (1945) and A CANTERBURY TALE (1944). This film was directed by the talented Michael Powell and the original story and screenplay are by his Romanian/Hungarian/Jewish collaborator Emeric Pressburger. They would go on to make together 49th PARALLEL (1941, see my review), several films with the editor John Seabourne, and would become world famous with THE RED SHOES (1948), along with countless other films which are fundamental to British cinema history.
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8/10
Don't Underestimate the British.
mark.waltz19 November 2012
Warning: Spoilers
A gem of early war propaganda, this adventure/comedy is a light-hearted but serious look at Nazi espionage and smuggling. Cast against type, Conrad Veidt plays a heroic Danish ship's captain, a seemingly sinister fellow who is actually a humorous chap on the side of peace. He is seen early in the film harshly admonishing a passenger for not wearing a life preserver. Teaming up with beautiful Valarie Hobson, he finds himself involved in exposing nasty Nazi's, much like his own spy in the brilliant "All Through the Night" where his suave character tried to blow up an American Navy ship.

The amazing Veidt is a German actor worthy of a movie biography because of his anti-Nazi sentiments while playing many of them, being married to a Jewish woman and escaping his homeland because of his love for her. With a sinister voice and demeanor hiding his true persona, Veidt here is as suave as Cary Grant and as courageous as Bogart. As the Captain, Veidt expresses a love for his homeland that he sadly realizes has been taken over by a monster. Outstanding photography and witty dialog add to the excitement of the film.
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10/10
Two great partnerships, on screen and off
ella-4826 August 2010
Warning: Spoilers
One of my favourite P+P outings - but then there are so many of 'em!

Where to begin? A delicious feast of a film. A perfectly seasoned mix of pace, humour and suspense - not to mention a surprisingly strong undercurrent of bondage/S+M eroticism for a 1940s British product. (WARNING - SPOILER) A mere 5 minutes in, and in the very first verbal exchange between the two central characters, Captain Andersen (Conrad Veidt) says "Tell me, Mrs Sorensen: have you ever been put in irons?" (/SPOILER)

From there on, their fractious, edgy relationship - essentially a battle of wits to find out which shall be the dominant partner and which the submissive - carries a smouldering erotic charge that drives the story and makes it compellingly watchable. Veidt and Hobson make a brilliant double-act: move over, Steed and Mrs. Peel!

I won't go on at length about the quirky, typically P+P story elements, the expressionist camera/lighting work or the distinctly Hitchcockian touches (look out for the conversation on the bus, folks), because others have said it far better than I could. Instead, I'll just say...

WATCH THIS FILM - YOU WON'T REGRET IT!
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7/10
Good film, no surprise, considering the talent
blanche-216 February 2015
"Contraband" is a Powell/Pressburger collaboration, and a lot of the techniques they use are reminiscent of later films, such as the 49th Parallel and "The Red Shoes."

The story concerns a Dane, Captain Anderson (Conrad Veidt) on a freighter that is stopped for inspection by a British warship. He asks for passes for himself and his first officer, but when he is ready to leave, he finds that the passes have been stolen by two passengers, Mrs. Sorenson (Valerie Hobson) and Mr. Pidgeon (Esmond Knight). He rows to shore and finds Mrs. Sorenson and decides to stick to her like glue. Before long he's involved with a German spy ring.

This is a good film with both Veidt and Hobson giving wonderful performances. They have good chemistry and the script gives them the opportunity for some repartee.

The background of the movie is interesting. One message was to to elicit compassion from the Scandinavians, as they emerge here as the heroes. Obviously it was before Denmark was invaded, and the British hoped to have their help.

The last scenes are quite exciting. This doesn't come up to a 39 Steps but it's still enjoyable.
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6/10
A Suave Continental leading man?
bkoganbing15 August 2012
When Contraband came out in November of 1940 Denmark had been invaded and occupied for several months. If there was a pretense of neutrality before, there was none now as the Danes were forced to be allied with the United Kingdom and its Commonwealth. Conrad Veidt and Valerie Hobson star in the Powell/Pressburger spy thriller done in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock. Lots of resemblance with Hitch's classic The 39 Steps.

Veidt is a Danish sea captain who is not real happy about being neutral and the risks it imposes on people like him trying to earn a living transporting trade goods. After a British inspection of his ship, two passengers fly the coop with his ship's log and landing clearances. One of them is Valerie Hobson and Veidt makes an unauthorized landing of his own to apprehend Hobson and her partner.

Soon enough he's up to his Danish ears in all kinds of intrigue concerning smuggling. He and Hobson pair off well, very much like Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll in The 39 Steps. Veidt who was known in America primarily for those smooth villainous roles like The Thief of Bagdad, Escape, and Casablanca could easily have transitioned to an all purpose continental leading man like Charles Boyer had be immigrated to America in time of peace.

It's not a Hitchcock like classic. But Contraband was a film pleasing enough to British audiences back in the day.
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8/10
Surreal at Times & Expressionistic Wartime Michael Powell Movie
LeonLouisRicci22 January 2015
Early British Wartime Effort from Director Michael Powell. It has a Light Touch with Some Amazing Noirish Flourishes. A Male-Female Team of Conrad Veidt and Valerie Hobson are Thrown Together Against Some Nazis and the Adventure Takes Them Through London Blackouts and Underground Cement Caverns with Secret Entrances and Ominous Elevators.

Beneath Nightclubs with Gaudy Fashions and Cuisine and Floor Shows Like "White Negro" that are Quite Bizarre, as is a Musical Group of Female Banjo Pickers with Artificial Glass Legs. It is All Rather Surreal.

Our Heroes get to Engage Banter with Some Sexual Innuendos and a Bondage Scene as They Combine Efforts for an Entertaining Romp that May be a bit Heavy on the Humor but the Thing Works Wonderfully.

It is Michael Powell's Inventive Camera Work and Expressionism that Makes this Stand Out and One can See that the British were Developing, as were Their American Cousins, a Seemingly Unconscious Style of Filmmaking that would Become Known as Film-Noir in its Various Degrees of Genre Bending and Definition.
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6/10
Hitchcockian? More like 'camp' expressionism
chrisart74 March 2008
Hobson and Veidt co-starred in "Spy in Black" in 1938 (released in '39), a beautiful WWI drama about spies and counterspies made by Alexander Korda's London Films. This film was the first pairing of director Michael Powell and scripter Emeric Pressburger who would soon come to be known as The Archers.

1940 saw the release of "Contraband", also featuring the same stars, as well as director and screenwriter. Technically, this film is superior to "Spy in Black", but if one is expecting a Hitchcockian romance-thriller laced with sparkling wit, a la "The 39 Steps" or "The Lady Vanishes," one is in for a big disappointment. Conrad Veidt, only three years away from death, looks much older than forty-seven in "Contraband". It is sad to see him cast as a 'romantic lead' having to occasionally spout some inane, undignified dialogue. Try to imagine Humphrey Bogart playing the lead in "Casablanca" in 1956 instead of 1942, and you have the idea. Even between "The Spy in Black" and "Contraband" Veidt had aged considerably.

The acting, direction, and camera-work are superb---diminutive Hay Petrie steals every scene he is in, as he did in "The Spy in Black" and "Knight Without Armour" (1937). Had he worked in Hollywood, he would likely have been a successful character lead, as was Claude Rains. It is Emeric Pressburger's script which ultimately sinks "Contraband". There are many potentially dramatic moments which are undermined by campy dialogue and situations, so much so that one cannot take the film seriously at all. The same occurs to a lesser degree in the otherwise excellent "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" and "A Matter of Life and Death". Pressburger, a Hungarian emigrè, also ham-fistedly telegraphs an appeal for sympathy towards all non-Brits in the aforementioned UK films.

I much prefer the Korda-produced films to the work of The Archers for the above reasons.
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7/10
Cute Mystery.
Robert J. Maxwell19 March 2015
Warning: Spoilers
It's kind of fun. I can see why reviewers have compared this to Hitchcock. It resembles his work, specifically "The 39 Steps." Conrad Veidt is the captain of a Danish freighter carrying a few passengers and a load of necessary supplies to Denmark. The ship is waylaid by British customs officers who need to make sure nothing of military value is on the inventory. The ship is delayed at a small English port for a day or so and everyone is ordered to stay aboard.

Veidt discovers that two of the passengers have entered his cabin and lifted papers allowing them to go ashore. One of them is Valerie Hobson, the other Esmond Knight. He himself rows ashore at night and tracks them to London, where he hooks up with Hobson, who he believes is in cahoots with Knight. It's lucky for him that he found Hobson. She's very attractive, tall, willowy, cheerfully cheeky. I mean, if he had to choose Hobson or Esmond Knight, Veidt might as well get Hobson.

They are now roaming the streets of London, two illegals, searching for the missing Knight whose character is named Pidgeon. ("The pigeon has flown!", announces a ship's officer.) Well, this is Hitchcock territory. A man and a woman being pursued while trying to unravel a mystery -- "Saboteur", "North by Northwest," and hints of others.

The narrative isn't at all dark. It's mostly comic and buoyant. There are small comic incidents involving minor characters -- a crowded passenger on a bus, a Welsh restaurateur, a sinister pair of brothers named Grimm (Peter Bull and Leo Genn). The director, Michael Powell, even anticipates Hitchcock's later use of point-of-view shots.

That the adventure ashore turns into a frolic is somewhat surprising, considering that this was released in 1940, a troublesome year for Britain. But who knows? Maybe chuckles and smiles are what a distressed audience needs.
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4/10
Like many propaganda flicks, this one is rather exciting but completely illogical.
MartinHafer22 January 2015
Warning: Spoilers
I like WWII propaganda films. However, I also will admit that often they lack logic. Their intent was to rouse the folks watching it-- stirring their patriotic fervor, not their intellect. In the case of "Blackout", it's a pretty exciting film but completely illogical from start to finish.

The film begins with a Danish* ship awaiting inspection by a British naval patrol. After all, WWII has begun and the Brits are just making sure nothing is getting in or out of the country that would help the Nazis. The Captain of the ship (Conrad Veidt) is cooperative and things seem just fine. However, and here's where the film starts to get stupid, a couple passes which would have allowed him and his first mate to go ashore suddenly go missing--and so do two passengers. Obviously the pair had taken the passes and went ashore. Now anyone with at least 1/2 ounce of brain would think to contact the British authorities to let them know. After all, the two might be German agents. But, since it's a propaganda film, the Captain and his mate sneak ashore and the Captain goes in search of the pair (don't worry, it's only London and it's not like it's one of the largest cities in the world!!! Finding them should be a snap). Does the Captain NOW find a cop or some other authority for help? Nah, he goes out and almost immediately tries to find them....and he DOES find the lady! She almost immediately tries to give him the slip--and yet he STILL does not seek police help!!! This is pretty much what happens throughout the rest of the film-- even when the Captain DEFINITELY discovers a Nazi spy ring. Why bother telling the police when you can take on a group like Nazi spies?! Illogical from start to finish but also find of exciting and fun.

*This film is set in 1939--before the Germans took over Denmark. So, when the film occurred, the Danes were still neutral and not involved in the war.
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7/10
Contraband Blackout.
morrison-dylan-fan9 March 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Taking part in a poll on ICM for the best films of 1940,I started to look at lists for movies that came out in the year. Enchanted by their work since seeing the sadly underrated Gone to Earth,I was thrilled to discover a Powell/Pressburger work,which led to me covering the windows for a blackout on contraband.

The plot-

1939:

While Denmark remains neutral in the Phoney War-stage of WWII,Danish captain Anderson is surprised to receive an order from Lt. Commanders Ashton and Ellis to go to a British Contraband Control Port,so that an inspection can be carried out. Getting set to go ashore as the inspection is done,Anderson's pass (and boat) is taken by secret agents Mrs. Sorensen and Mr. Pidgeon,who set sail to give the government info that the Nazis want blacked out.

View on the film:

Known for the immortal nightmare image in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Conrad Veidt gives a delicious performance as Anderson,with the romantic glances Anderson gives Sorensen allowing Veidt to show a romantic flamboyance with a real relish. Running with a dashing Esmond Knight as Mr. Pidgeon, Valerie Hobson gives an enticing performance as Sorensen. Coming faced to face with the Nazis,Hobson gives Sorensen a considerate thoughtfulness,that unrolls itself as Sorensen tries to get contraband under the Nazis noses.

Originally planned as a follow-up to The Spy In Black, the screenplay by co-writer/(along with Emeric Pressburger & Brock Williams) director Michael Powell sails on creepy Spiv espionage and playful Caper romance. Making their first title for the WWII effort,the writers present a surprisingly unsettling view of Britain,where Nazis and British spies lurk on every street waiting to spot a weakness. Staying away from going too grim,the writers give Sorensen a patriotic slickness that undermines every attempt from the boo-hiss Nazis.

Hitting the high seas with most of the crew from The Spy In Black,director Michael Powell & cinematographer Freddie Young cast a chilly atmosphere with thick smog allowing the contraband to be kept from the eyes of the enemy. Whilst being very early in the Powell/Pressburger relationship,Powell displays a remarkable confidence in smashing the budget/sets limit in an ultra-stylised manner,as shot statues,overlapping eyes and invisible ink notes reveal Sorensen's contraband.
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6/10
Mr. Pidgeon flew the coup!
kapelusznik1826 October 2015
Warning: Spoilers
***SPOILER***Made weeks after the start off WWII has Danish sea captain Andersen, Conrad Veidt, of the freighter "Helvig" get involved with a German spy ring in London that's trying to embroil the UK into a war with the USA in a false flag attack on American shipping and making it look like the Briish not Germans were responsible for the attacks. Capt. Andersen who, in being Danish, is a neutral party in all this gets involved when two of his passengers Mrs. Sorensen and Mr. Pidgeon, Valerie Hobson & Esmond Knight, who ship out with the only two off shore passes that the British Government gave Capt. Andersen as well as his 2nd in command Alex Skold, Hay Petrie, to go out on shore leave for the night.

It soon becomes evident that a Nazi spy ring is in operation in London headed by Herr Van Dyne, Raymond Lovell, who just happens to be at the home of Sorensen's aunt where both her and Capt. Andersen are headed. It was Capt. Andersen who earlier tracked her down at the 3 Viking restaurant that's run by Axel Skold's twin brother Eric,also played by Hay Petrie, who's trying to make ends meet with the war, and nightly blackouts, cutting in on his profits. Taken prisoner by the Nazis all Sorenson and Capt. Andersen can do is twiddle their thumbs and bide their time trying to figure where the Nazis are by listening to the music and banjo playing at the night club that the Nazis are using as a front to their spying operation.

****SPOILERS*** It restaurateur Erik Skold and his employees of cooks and waiters who come to both Capt. Andersen and Mrs. Sorenson as well as Pidgeon's, who was later kidnapped by the Nazis, rescue, with pots and pans and tubs of boiling water they use in fighting the Nazis. More like a comedy then a serious wartime movie that in all the fighting the only one person who got killed was the one that deserved it most Nazi spy ring leader Van Dyne. The movie was filmed before the Nazi invasion of Denmark in April 1940 which in a way, if taken seriously, warned the Danes what the Nazis had in store for them. The film also showed how serious the Nazi threat to the free world was at that time early in the war in them willing to go so far as tricking the British future allies the USA to go to war against each other! That in a series of planned false flag attacks on US shipping and miking it look like the British were behind them!
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5/10
Black And Veidt
writers_reign24 June 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Never underestimate the power of hype and the willingness of impressionable snobs to praise the mediocre. If people were easily pleased in 1940 it seems little has changed in almost 60 years. I accept that Powell and Pressburger completists will want to see and/or own this film but just because the team turned out a couple of half decent movies doesn't mean that every early effort was gold dust. The year before the same team had enjoyed a minor success - not, surely, that hard in wartime - with the Spy In Black and figured why not team Conrad Veidt and Valerie Hobson again and this time, improbable and unrealistic as it is, have them fall in love in between escaping from a spy ring. All sorts of people pop up here and it's amazing that the likes of Peter Bull, Leon Genn and Bernard Miles went on to appear in anything else let alone enjoy reasonable careers. For completists only.
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6/10
Complete blackout
Alex da Silva26 May 2014
Conrad Veidt (Captain Andersen) is the skipper of a Danish boat that has been intercepted by the British and brought to dock in England while the cargo is processed. An overnight stay is required before he can proceed. He is also carrying passengers and he makes it his business that they do not abscond overnight. His mission is to deliver his cargo and not to lose any passengers. This, above all else. Well, Valerie Hobson (Mrs Sorensen) and Esmond Knight (Mr Pidgeon) have other plans, and duly abscond. Veidt has one night to track them down and ensure that they are back on his ship when it is due to sail in the morning.

This film has an alternate title of "Blackout" and it's very significant seeing that you can't see what's going on during several scenes. It's a shame because it's an engaging spy story. Conrad Veidt is excellent in the lead – he is very much his own man, and manages to draw some humour out of his arrogant portrayal making him likable. He is loyal to his principles and that is to be admired. He gets some funny dialogue as well as throwing in some nice touches such as when he rows ashore to begin his chase, and he keeps repeating the name of Mr Pidgeon. With each pull of the oar we hear "Mr Pidgeon". It's funny and you know that it is really annoying him! However, set against this, the film is marred by silly comedy sections that always seem to include Hay Petrie in a dual role of brothers. The film really did not need him, yet alone two of him. Aaargh. Lose points for that, I'm afraid.

You can tell that this is a fun, spy story with some tense moments. However, the tension is taken away because you can't see the blasted thing and there is way too much comedy.
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Waste of Time
fordraff3 January 2001
The advertisement about this film from Kino Video led me to think I was going to see an exciting spy story with noirish overtones and a Hitchcockian twist.

It is nothing of the sort.

If Hitchcock had made this film, smooth, suave Cary Grant would have had the lead, and he would have been opposite a cool, sophisticated blonde. Before the film had ended, Grant would have melted her coolness for a final kiss or, as in "North By Northwest," an implication of sexual surrender.

Here we are asked to accept Conrad Veidt, at age 47 and looking every year of it just three years before his death, in the Cary Grant role and Valerie Hobson, twenty-four years his junior, in the cool blonde part. There is just about no one further removed from Cary Grant than Conrad Veidt. However, it was interesting to see him playing someone other than a villain, but at the same time, I realized that such roles were his forte.

Of course, Valerie Hobson isn't blond. And here she looked like Merle Oberon and acted as stiffly. There were absolutely no sparks between Hobson and Veidt, to say nothing of the dialogue which was totally unwitty and without any double entendres. I suspect that Kino's publicity about the Hitchcockian touch had in mind Hitchcock's "The 39 Steps," where Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll must put up with each other against their wills.

I cared nothing for the characters. The film had no narrative thrust (what happens next?). It was a total waste of my time.
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