At once a compelling piece of anti-isolationist propaganda and a quick-witted wartime thriller, 49th Parallel is a classic early work from the inimitable British filmmaking team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. When a Nazi U-boat crew, headed by the ruthless Eric Portman, is stranded in Canada during the thick of World War II, the men evade capture by hiding out in a series of rural communities, before trying to cross the border into the still-neutral United States. Both soul-stirring and delightfully entertaining, 49th Parallel features a colorful cast of characters played by larger-than-life actors Laurence Olivier, Raymond Massey, Anton Walbrook, and Leslie Howard.
—The Criterion Collection
A one time studio gofer, still photographer, and comic actor, Michael Powell became one of the most celebrated and controversial directors ever to come out of England. Born in Canterbury, Powell became enamored of films while still a teenager and, after a start in the mid-’20s and a stint shooting stills and serving as a co-scenarist with Alfred Hitchcock in the early sound era, Powell broke into directing in low-budget British thrillers and comedies. After directing and writing his first notable movie in 1937, The Edge of the World, he moved to London Films where he began working with Emeric Pressburger, a gifted young author and screenwriter. Their two-decade association began shortly after they left London Films (where they collaborated on The Spy in Black and Powell co-directed The Thief of Bagdad). The wartime thrillers Contraband and Forty-Ninth Parallel, the latter attracted much attention (including Oscar nominations for Best Picture and best original story), resulted in the… read more
"There is a new wind blowing from the east, a great storm coming across the sea, a hurricane which will sweep aside all the old outmoded ways of life..." There are some very mixed up messages in this one. The premise is amazing, the editing is sub-par. What surprises -and scares- me most is the relatively fair treatment of both points of view. In the beginning and end this is propaganda but in-between i'm not sure.
Powell and Pressburger were so ahead of the fighting Nazis curve, they opened up a whole new front to the war, Canada. I was skeptical of this conceit as the film started, but its bullheadedness won me over. It wasn’t satisfied with the physical results of battle and intrigue, but went after the ideology, and not subtly. P&P keep us off guard in two effective ways. First, due to the Canadian setting itself, being so unfamiliar to WWII iconography. Also, we are following the Nazi escapees. In essence, sharing their point of view while never sympathizing with them. This is quite a narrative accomplishment and more than makes up for Lawrence Olivier’s hilarious attempt at a French accent.
I have a real soft spot for The 49th Parallel. It’s certainly not held up by many as the best of Powell and Pressburger but it’s one of those films I find myself drawn to again and again – P&P’s… read review
This movie is what you get when Hitler goads you with bubblegum kush and MDMA to accompany him on a hitchhiking adventure through Canada. Laugh with him as you both gorge distustingly on poutine and… read review