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As a major Hitchcock fan, I was excited to get the chance to see this rarely-seen propaganda short that Hitchcock made in England in the French langauge about the French resistance. The results are far below Hitchcock's talents. The film is too dialogue heavy and convoluted. I can just barely tell you what happened in this film, and what I remember now, two minutes after finishing it, will be completely gone within a half an hour. It doesn't work as entertainment, and it certainly doesn't work as propaganda. Perhaps Hitchcock should have studied Eisenstein, who had the capability to churn out propaganda imbued with extraordinary artistry. Aventure Malgache was simply done too quickly and without enough thought. 5/10.
A corrupt Vichy police official & a wily Resistance lawyer
their own intense AVENTURE MALAGACHE during the early
years of the Second World War.
Although having lived in Hollywood since 1939, famed film director Alfred Hitchcock nevertheless wanted to be involved in some way with the British war effort against the Axis. So, in 1943 he returned to London & took up the assignment to direct a couple of propaganda films aimed at the French, under the auspices of the British Ministry of Information.
The two film shorts which resulted - BON VOYAGE & AVENTURE MALAGACHE (both 1944) - did not excite the Ministry and were given only very brief exhibition, after which they languished for decades in the vaults of the British Film Institute. Hitchcock, meanwhile, his war service satisfied, returned to California.
AVENTURE MALAGACHE (Adventure in Madagascar) is basically a look at the extreme antagonism between the two principal characters, cut off, as they are, from the main action of the War due to their Indian Ocean location. Extremely fast moving, it demands unblinking attention on the part of the viewer, especially if one must needs be forced to rely on the English subtitles. The acting & production values are quite good - Hitchcock was able to call upon the services of French actors, writers & technicians exiled in Britain.
"Aventure Malgache" is one of two short, French-language features that
Alfred Hitchcock made during World War II as a tribute to the French
Resistance. It is not as good as the other of these ("Bon Voyage"), but
will certainly be of interest to fans of the great director, and it is
a distinctive look at one of the more unknown aspects of World War
The film opens in a dressing room, as one of a group of French actors discusses how a character in their upcoming performance reminds him of his experiences on the island of Madagascar when it was taken over by the Axis. The story that he tells in flashback contains some suspense, but the main interest is psychological and historical. There were many on the island who wanted to resist Vichy rule, but they were split into various factions, and their attempts were further complicated by personal rivalries and agendas.
While there is not much action, it is interesting as a very different look at World War II than what we are used to seeing in the movies. There are some good Hitchcock touches of humor and mild suspense, and like "Bon Voyage", it is very similar in nature and length to an episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents".
If you are a Hitchcock fan, or if you are fascinated in everything about World War II, you should find "Aventure Malgache" of some interest.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As agitprop, as other reviews have noted, this one perhaps isn't the
kind of Howard Hawks rabble-rouser one would have expected to be
produced in the throes of war. It's also notably low-budget, with all
the scenes being produced in cramped indoor sets that accommodate very
little motion, either among the actors or with the camera.
That said, there are some classic Hitch moments within. There's the theme of the double, the double-agent and the duel (and duality) between the two antagonists, one a veteran of Verdun and a prominent defense lawyer, and the other the chief of police and security for Vichy Madagascar. There's the moment when one of the resistance fighters, about to leave for England to join the French Army, is betrayed by his fiancée who either believes this will keep him with her or is getting revenge -- we never know -- slowly, slowly moves towards the phone to drop a dime on him (and our hero), and the phone slowly comes into focus in the foreground. And there's this odd narrative device of having the story told from backstage of a French theater troupe in London -- exactly why the lawyer ended up doing a theatrical performance, after having escaped the Vichy and been a producer of his own propaganda radio broadcasts, is completely unclear, but it may be Hitch's subtle way of using the artifice of the production values to his good advantage. Even if you don't speak French, it's fun picking out the classic rhythms of dialogue and editing pace common to Hitch. Compare, for instance, to the almost contemporaneous 'Lifeboat', which was another completely talky piece of wartime agitprop shot in incredibly close confines (literally so in the latter case). If you can't use the great horizons of the outdoors, use the claustrophobic to generate that sense of dread of being caught that must've been endemic to being part of a secret resistance.
I wouldn't seek this out unless you're interested in the social history of propaganda, the French resistance, or unless you're looking for a research paper for film school on Hitch, but given its short running time it is hardly a waste of time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Hitchcock was working under wartime restrictions when he shot this French-language film in Britain and the limits imposed are apparent. How the director must have ached for a chance to give the audience his usual tourist's view of an exotic location, in this case Madagascar. Instead there are sets consisting of small rooms and one more sizable courtroom. The purpose was propaganda and it probably worked, although now of course it seems crass and dated. Nothing special about it, no Hitchcock touches or anything. It's fast-paced and tightly written movie urging the French to resist the occupation and showing them how it's done, while at the same time warning of the dangers involved. It's not really worth going out of one's way for except that it's a historical curiosity.
The film is about the French controlled island of Madagascar. Once the
French surrendered to Germany in 1940 and became their allies, their
colonies around the globe were left to decide whether to go along with
the Vichy government or throw in their lot with the British and
continue to fight the Nazis. The film particularly follows one man on
the island who is the head of the underground movement.
This is a very odd film. During WWII, Alfred Hitchcock made two short propaganda films in French! Everyone speaks French and I wonder if Hitchcock himself understood the language. Considering how weak this short film is, I assume he didn't! Unlike most propaganda films, this film is way too talky and slow. Additionally, it's not exactly inspiring. There simply is no action or suspense and the film is amazingly uninspiring. All these factors led the British government to say "thanks but no thanks" to the director when he tried to help out with the war effort.
FYI--I noticed one reviewer gave the short a 10. When I checked, I noticed that out of dozens and dozens of their reviews I perused, all had received 10s--every last one.
It is interesting for Hitchcock completests in particular, but this is not an example of the great director being on top form. There are some imaginative directorial touches(in the camera work, humour and the theme with the double), a nice droll denouncement, some nicely crafted production values, some decent acting especially from Paul Claras and a playful yet haunting music score. Sadly for Aventure Malgache for all the good things there are a number of things that are not done very well. It is too heavy on the dialogue, which apart from the sly humour here and there veers on stilted and crass and it bogs the pacing down. The pacing does have some quick-moving scenes but the most talky scenes drag, while the storytelling does get confused and not the easiest to follow. There is not much exciting here either, it is the case of too much dialogue not enough action and there is little suspense too. And it does get bogged down in the propaganda elements, it makes its point but it doesn't hold up well and some may find the attitudes of the French being portrayed here rather insensitive(the reason why it stayed in the vaults for such a long time). In conclusion, an interesting short film and worth the look but Aventure Malgache is really not Hitchcock at his best and it doesn't ever rise above interesting curiosity value. 5/10 Bethany Cox
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
May contain spoiler- I don't see one, you might.
This movie was commissioned to boost the exploits of the résistants after France was liberated- a political move on the part of DeGaulle's government in exile. It is well made, acted, and directed- the only fault on Hitchcock's part I mention below. The story moves at a steady pace and the actors and actions are entirely believable, whether or not the whole story is true.
The only problem I had was with the end. Those actions should have taken a larger part of the movie and involved more characters. This movie was not released because it shows how the French were divided on what course of action to take in the many aspects of their lives. Unity was the goal audiences were to come away with- Aventure failed in that aspect.
There is no reason to not see this movie if you have a chance- it won't come around again soon. I admit I didn't appreciate the wonderful ending until the next day.
I am biased toward this film because I am fascinated by the ambiguity of life in WW2.
"Aventure Malgache" ("Madagascan Adventure") was one of two short
French-language propaganda films which Alfred Hitchcock directed for
the British Ministry of Information during the Second World War, the
other being "Bon Voyage". "Bon Voyage" was intended to publicise the
struggle of the French Resistance in mainland France itself, while
"Aventure Malgache" deals with the Resistance movement in the French
colonies. After the fall of France in 1940 the administration in French
Madagascar (like that in some other colonies) supported the
collaborationist Vichy regime until the island was liberated by British
and Free French forces in 1942.
The hero of the film is Paul Clarus, a lawyer and amateur actor, who is a leading light in the Resistance on Madagascar. (He is said to be based upon a real-life figure, Jules François Clermont, who portrays him in the films). His activities include helping anti-Vichy Frenchmen escape from the island to British-controlled territory and running a clandestine pro-Resistance radio station. These activities bring him into conflict with the villainous Jean Michel, who before the war was a criminal whom Clarus prosecuted in court, but who has now become the Vichy regime's "Chef de la Sûreté" on the island. Some Vichy supporters were quite sincere in their belief that Marshal Philippe Petain's regime represented the best hope for the French nation but Michel is a cynical turncoat; when the British arrive we see him replacing a portrait of Petain in his office with one of Queen Victoria (which he has presumably been keeping in preparation for just such an eventuality).
In "Bon Voyage" Hitchcock did make some use of his normal suspense techniques, but "Aventure Malgache" is a more straightforward piece of propaganda. In the opening scene Clarus is seen discussing his adventures with some of his actor friends, so there is little suspense about the film; we know from the start that Clarus will survive. As with "Bon Voyage" the film is so different from Hitchcock's normal feature films, even explicitly propagandist ones like "Foreign Correspondence" or "Saboteur", that I will not award it a mark out of 10. It did, however, expand my French vocabulary by one word. "Malgache" is French for "Madagascan"; on the basis that "gacher" is French for "to spoil" I would otherwise have translated the title as "An Adventure Badly Spoiled".
In wartime with such a shortage of resources, short films made in the
French language in Britain in 1944 were undoubtedly made for very
distinct purposes. In this situation Hitchcock evidently put his
talents entirely at the disposal of the powers that be but, in the
absence of concrete information, we can only guess what those purposes
In common with "Bon Voyage" - the other of the two films Hitch shot in the French language during the war - the intended audience was Vichy France and the Vichy controlled French colonies (the film is set in Madagascar). Overall they were propaganda films, intended for the French resistance. Each is to some extent instructional particularly warning of pitfalls resistance members could fall into. Here the main character is imprisoned by the Vichy authorities and finds that a defence lawyer has been provided for him. The defence lawyer asks for full details of the man's resistance activities so that he can better defend him. The main character immediately realises that the lawyer is working for the authorities and there solely to extract incriminating information. Noticeable too are the many references to Britain's role in supporting the Resistance - presumably an important part of the film's message.
Overall the film quite slick, pacy and good humoured. Other propaganda elements are not so obvious although presumably the main character's bravery, spirit, wiliness along with his undoubted patriotism (like Petain, a hero of the Battle of Verdun in WW1, indeed known to Petain but having chosen resistance rather than collaboration) perhaps offered something of a role model for the audience. The key line must have been "The greatness of a country is measured by the spirit of its people". Given the reality of occupation and collaboration, "spirit" was one thing that nevertheless could remain undimmed, that national honour could still be fought for and could still be saved.
Interestingly both films were small projects and that it was other directors who handled the now iconic wartime productions.
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