Went the Day Well? (1942)
User ReviewsAdd a Review
There are a few weak points that undermine its credibility; the Germans' English is probably too perfect and they seem too familiar with colloquialisms, and having a radio operator who can barely understand English wasn't the brightest idea, but these are minor complaints against a film that is plausible throughout.
Given its release date, it is rather daring in its depiction of the Nazi soldiers, showing them as evil but not sadistic. It could easily have gone down the route of having them rape and murder the villagers for their own amusement, but it shows restraint in having them kill only those who are seen as immediate threats to their plan. Indeed, there is a cutting reference to the exaggerated propaganda that shows Nazis happily sticking babies on pitchforks. There is balance, too, in its depiction of the French. While two characters discuss their early surrender we are given both points of view; first condemnation for their perceived cowardice, then sympathy at the realisation that they are now living under Nazi rule, a fate deserved by no one. To find such balance in a mid-war movie is refreshing.
The characters are warm and convincing, if a little clichéd, and there is a genuine sense of community within the village that helps us to feel sorrow for the few that are murdered. Here, again, the film shows a degree of courage in killing off the best characters without hesitation. A particularly touching moment comes when one of the villagers realises the man she loves is the traitor, and knows she has to stop him herself. Without the depth of characterisation, this would have meant nothing.
Cynicism would tell us to laugh at how it champions the courage of normal people, but such thoughts should be ignored and replaced with respect for those who lived through a horror we can barely imagine. To its generation, Went the Day Well was a warning to be ever vigilant; to ours it is a tense thriller that reminds us how lucky we are. It can hardly be called a classic, but it seems a shame that, at the time of writing, there are no other comments or reviews on the database. It is inventive, thoughtful, tense, funny, and charming, and deserves to be held in higher regard.
What we have in this gem of a film is a great story, we see the villagers pull together and overcome the foe in heroic fashion. We are not spared the horrors of war, I think particularly of the scene when the telephone operator having summoned the courage to kill her German captor is killed trying to contact someone for help, you don't see anything but because of that it is all the more powerful. You are on the edge of your seat hoping the eggs with the message on will get through. We see a lady driving in her car, singing to herself, we then cut to the home guard being mown down on the road, their bodies cleared just as the woman drives round the corner. The two scenes together make for a powerful contrast. Bloody good stuff.
The pace continues through the film at such a rate that you do find yourself on the edge of the seat, the acting is great, though some may find the clipped English accent a little annoying, I liked the fact that there are a number of different accents from cockney to Yorkshire all making the "in it together" message more powerful. When the villagers start to fight back we get to see some hero's, none more so than the lady at the manor house who to save the children throws herself onto a grenade, I remember seeing this scene for the first time and being very moved by it, and every time I watch it again it has the same effect.
As a piece of propaganda it must have worked like a dream as a film it is well made and acted, what more could you want. Even more impressive is that it has aged very little.
It has all the usual stereotypical villagers, (the post-mistress, the squire etc), but these clichéd parts are turned on their heads with surprisingly suspenseful results. Good performances, too, from everybody in a film that is largely undervalued, certainly in this country where we are inclined to acknowledge our 'heroism' but draw the line at going beyond that, as this film does, somewhat uncomfortably.
The beauty of "Went The Day Well" is that is of its time, and the product of a country that was still at war, and reflects the concerns of the British wartime population. If you have an interest in World War Two and like black and white films, then by all means see this film.
The film begins with the arrival of a sizeable detachment of British troops arriving in a sleepy village which is coping admirably with the rigours of rationing and getting by without their menfolk, who are away fighting. However, it soon transpires that the British troops are, in fact a crack team of German paratroopers who have come to jam British radar in preparation for the invasion. Not only that but the local lord of the manor is a dastardly fifth columnist. The women of the village become suspicious of the newcomers due to the funny way they write numerals and the fact that they have German chocolate with them. This is all to no avail though as everyone takes their worries to the traitorous squire.
As it is a propaganda piece, the ending comes as no surprise. What is interesting though is the subversion of the class system: the dodgy poacher and his little scamp of a sidekick who are the true heroes, where the 'officer class' of the village are portrayed as either incompetent or downright villainous. The film was based on a Graham Greene story, and his perfect observation of the British way of life is superbly translated to the screen.
Compared to the other, more famous propaganda films (I'm thinking here of Humphrey Jennings), the quality of production (film stock, sound, lighting etc.) is very high, and it is hard to imagine that this was made in a time of war.
Do not make the mistake of presuming that it is an insincere propaganda yarn, considering its era. This is in fact quite an electrifying tale of survival. If so many can overlook the propaganda of obsolete films like Battleship Potemkin, there is certainly room for this picture. It stands out, owing much to its unexpected flashes of violence that are sincerely exhilarating and often frank and uncompromising in terms of the drama. It is not gritty like most modern war films. The quaintly timeless English ambiance, and the consistent theme of it maintaining its spry morale, is a clever and natural juxtaposition to the taut aggression of the conflict, which is thus more well-defined. The relatively unfamiliar cast is plainly high- quality.
At its hub, yes, it's a work of propaganda exploiting a thriller story to enrapture its WWII-era British spectators. But mind you, it is based on a story by English writer and WWII MI6 spy Graham Greene. Nevertheless, the English were righteous in that war, remaining the only European country the Germans intended to occupy but never could. This piece grows to be as riveting as any other good movie, and what's more, its unexpected violence causes it to project with particular prominence.
Gradually the villagers begin to suspect things aren't right, and then realize what they're dealing with. The Germans cordon off the village and show their true, ruthless nature. The villagers need to break through the cordon to alert authorities and get help. They also decide they must take action themselves to stop the Germans. This is complicated because the village houses a traitor. The climax is the Battle of Bromley End, with British Home Guard troops arriving while the Germans, attacking the manor house where they must set up their equipment, are held off by the brave men and women of the village.
If you're fond of older Brit movies you'll recognize some fine actors: Leslie Banks, David Farrar, Thora Hird, Basil Sydney, Mervyn Johns. The film is a well-constructed and effective bit of wartime home-front propaganda.
Made in 1942 as a British propaganda film, Went The Day Well? is not your typical war movie. Until the climax of the film, there isn't a lot of action in it. And when the action does start, it's not soldiers versus soldiers, but villagers versus soldiers.
The cleverness of the tale, is in the way it is little details that give away the fact the soldiers are German (including a line through the number seven - which I do!).
While the script does show its age in some of the language, and some of the performances come over a bit wooden looking at it now, the film still has a lot of power, thanks to the direction of Alberto Cavalcanti. And while the action may not be as dramatic of other films of its type, it still builds to a tense and gripping climax.
Bookended by a couple of scenes that are supposed to be after the war, it works well as the propaganda film it was always meant to be. Taken as a war-set film, it is still one of my favourites, and I think a classic.
Who was the narrator at the beginning and end? I'd like to know more about him.
Everyone says it is propaganda.Did not the Germans also have their own propaganda? Propaganda or not I am glad I saw it.
In Bramley End, a pretty good (and ultimately successful) fight was put up once the locals got over their shock, and the fight involved men, women and children; soldiers and civilians alike. The Germans (as expected) are portrayed as ruthless (although, given the context, I thought they might have been portrayed even worse than they were.) Although it clearly was propaganda to an extent, the movie didn't have what I would consider to be a typical "propaganda" feel to it, which I appreciated, and which makes it interesting rather than dated even today. Speaking from a North American perspective, I confess that at times I had a bit of trouble following the accents, but the flow of the story was clear enough in spite of this, and I thought Oliver's ultimate fate at the hands of Nora (Valerie Taylor) represented poetic justice.
The movie opens and closes with a narration which is set in the post-war era, and is perhaps the only thing that seems really out of place today, with references to Hitler getting what was coming to him (I don't think he really did) and speaking of the invasion that finally came (which it didn't.) Aside from that, though, I found this movie quite enjoyable. 7/10
land down south (the Thora Hird character). The way British people speak
varies so much that the German's stiltedness wouldn't be so unexpected.
But despite the "we're all in this together" atmosphere it's taken for granted that the "officers" are invited to dinner by the lady of the big house along with the vicar and his daughter (beautifully acted) and Oliver Wilsford, the traitor. It's never explained what his "cover" is - he just lives in the village, probably on private means. He may dabble in art (look at the murals in his sitting room).
The really creepy thing about this film is that the Nazis, although unquestionably evil, show more restraint against their civilian prisoners than Bob Kerrey showed in Vietnam or that the "Dirty Dozen" showed against the female Germans they burn alive in the climax of that insanely over-praised flick.
Taken from a story by Graham Greene, the premise sees a chocolate box English country village, packed to the brim with staunch salt of the earth types from various strata of the class system, which plays host to a troop of Nazi invaders disguised as regular Tommies. The locals soon rumble the dastardly plan and gradually, as the bulldog spirit inevitably blooms and swells, turn the tables on their oppressors and merrily chop, shoot, stab, strangle, punch and grenade the evil Hun interlopers into submission well, death really.
The villagers from the lady of the manor to the lowly poacher and the local postmistress are hewn from ye olde stout oak of English courage and fortitude, every man jack of 'em. The Nazi troops are evil, barbaric, baby-bayoneting, child-murdering dictators through and through. They have no redeeming features whatsoever. They are uniformly inhuman.
Many of the villagers get blown away main characters die indiscriminately but they all cop it doing their duty and performing deeds of selfless heroism or flag-waving moral defiance. The Germans buy it because they deserve to, and that's reason enough here.
The controversy heaped on the film in later times stems from it being so amazingly subversive in its approach along with the gleeful degree of sadistic violence suggested on screen. In one scene the local postmistress throws pepper in the eyes of a Nazi trooper and then whacks him into the next world with an axe. She is subsequently brutally transfixed with a bayonet when another Nazi walks in on the scene. Earlier the local vicar is shot point blank in the church by a Nazi officer no concept of sanctuary or God, you see? There's more, much more, but it's best to see and enjoy (or not) for yourself.
I love this film on two levels. Firstly, as a remarkable historical artifact depicting a fantasy England that never was and never will be. It smartly dupes you into wanting to believe that this is just the way it was and truly should have been. You end up thinking maybe it was a lot like this back then. Even though you know full well it wasn't. Secondly, it's a bloody good crack. It demonises and dehumanises the enemy of old and is more black and white than hot tar on a freshly laundered bed sheet. There is plenty of action and slaughter, and even though it's tame by modern standards due to a lack of explicit visuals, what it suggests by leaving sight unseen is a force to be reckoned with. There is no doubt who to root for. On the one hand a group of righteous, good, humane, patriotic and caring folk (us). On the other, a bunch of irredeemably evil bastards out to butcher you and your kids (them). Clear enough.
Racist, bigoted, xenophobic, prejudiced and wholly simplistic. But in the context of the times, perhaps not without some justification. And possibly one of the best British war films ever made. Seek it out.
Like the later film, THE EAGLE HAS LANDED, this fictional movie poses the 'what if?' question - what if the much-mooted Nazi invasion of England had really taken place? The answer is limited to a single rural village in the English countryside which soon finds itself taken over by ruthless German soldiers.
What follows is expertly paced and supremely directed, with the villagers harried, hassled and murdered and eventually fighting back against their oppressors. It's still a violent and grim film, with axe murders, knifings and all manner of shootings put on the screen, although in my mind a scene involving a hand grenade marks the most shocking moment. An excellent cast, topped by THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME's Leslie Banks as a sinister collaborater, help make this a British classic.