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Action in the North Atlantic [1943)

Where to start…  This is a time capsule from another world and, most of all, a damn good film.  It might be argued that this picture proves a certain fallibility of the French auteur theory, but only insofar as director Lloyd Bacon never having been canonized like, for instance, Howard Hawks.  Sure…this is a propaganda film, but it’s hard to argue with gentle optimism.  We were even allies with Russia (Soviet Union) back then!

I hadn’t seen a Raymond Massey performance in a long while and it was good to remember his excellent acting skills.  Bogart is great the whole way through, but what else would you expect?  Ruth Gordon does a fine job in her small role as Massey’s wife.  Not many female roles here as the majority of the film is at sea during wartime (in the 1940s).  Julie Bishop is likewise lovely as Bogart’s new bride (though we see very little of her too).

The ensemble acting is really remarkable and vivid…particularly aboard the oil tanker at the start of the film.  Dane Clark has a strange role–a sort of “doubting Thomas” who finally sees the light of patriotism.  Truly, this film is not just American propaganda, but also proto United Nations perception management.  But like I said, this was a different age and the whole thing comes off as quite the opposite of heavy-handed.

Alan Hale, Sr. is pretty hilarious the whole way through as O’Hara:  the guy who never shuts up.  To be fair, none of these salty dogs ever shut up.  Only Bogart and Massey retain any sense of distinguished cool.

Of particular note are the action sequences.  What a huge undertaking!  This is truly a movie which gives a glimmer as to the breadth at issue in WWII.  The aerial shots of the maritime convoy are astounding!  Amid all of this bombast I failed to notice Robert Mitchum’s one line appearance, but if Wikipedia claims it’s so then it must be.  Ha!

The specific topic of recruitment (as per propaganda) is for the U.S. Merchant Marine and their Academy.  Like I said, none of it is too terribly offensive to logical thought.  Of particular interest is the dialogue of the German U-boats.  All of it is in German and without subtitles.  We also hear different tongues throughout the film (such as Russian).  No “foreign” character is ever made to speak English.

Speaking of mixed messages…Wikipedia also credits Raoul Walsh and Byron Haskin with directing this film.  Now what the heck is that all about?  No wonder Lloyd got the auteurist shaft!

 

-PD

 

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