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  1. #1
    Senior Member Country: United States TimR's Avatar
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    This was next on my list of Powell-Pressburger films, and also happened to be included on the list of films that include period location footage of London, in this case on the eve of war. So there were good reasons to see it, but I must admit that I was not looking forward to it because espionage melodramas are not usually my sort of film. They usually seem to me to be much ado about nothing.



    Well, this turned out to be a pleasant surprise. I should be accustomed to that with Powell and Pressburger! In this case, the location filming, the performances of Conrad Veidt and Valerie Hobson and, especially, the combination of Powell and Pressburger working together for the first time work together to make it absorbing, fascinating and at times exciting.



    There is a strong romantic chemistry between Veidt and Hobson and superb timing in their scenes together. The idea of a dignified, somewhat stiff-necked Danish captain following stray passengers who vanish off his freighter into London is just unusual enough to make the story intriguing from the beginning, and the plot is clever enough to hold the interest - and it is the gently bantering dialogue handled by two professionals that makes th story a pleasure to watch.



    The real interest for me is in the unusual mix of romantic comedy and escape melodrama in a thriller set in London during the blackout. The blackout sequences are extraordinary, and while the villains are never really very threatening, the atmosphere and setting convey the threat of war very effectively thanks to Powell, and to the cinematographer. It was interesting to read that the brilliant Freddie Young is responsible for the camera work. The scenes of the ships and the blackout seem like a documentary – similar to the Montevideo sequence in The Battle of the River Plate. However, the scenes are more convincing here.



    What an outstanding actor Conrad Veidt was! His screen presence is so powerful that he dominates every scene he is in, and his sense of humor and timing are impeccable. At the same time, Valerie Hobson more than holds her own. If she didn't have her own strength, the balance of the story wouldn't work.

  2. #2
    Administrator Country: Wales Steve Crook's Avatar
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    I've often thought (and said) that Contraband should be nominated as one of the sexiest movies P&P made. It's quite a lightweight piece of work but it has hidden shallows



    Everyone first thinks of BN, TRS (or maybe GTE) when they think of P&P's sexiest movie, but consider ...



    It starts when Andersen (Conrad Veidt) calls Mrs. Sorensen (Valerie Hobson) to his cabin & asks if she wants to be chained up ("clapped in irons")



    When Capt Andersen (Connie) is looking for Mrs Sorenson (Valerie) on board the ship, first he nearly gets ensnared by the young lady doing the exercises on her bed - "You can read the newspaper here."



    In fact she's Mrs. Abo (Olga Edwardes), the young, beautiful wife of Prof. Abo (Eric Berry) who's seen in the dining room with her. She's also his ex-student so the Prof isn't as frail and doddery as he looks.



    Then Capt Andersen goes into Mrs Sorenson's cabin and while he's looking for clues as to where she might be he's fondling the stockings that she's left on the drawer.



    When Andersen tracks Mrs Sorenson to London he nearly follows her into the ladies toilets !!



    When they get to London he follows her in the blackout by keeping his torch shining on her long legs & high heels.



    There's all the "flirty banter" and touching while they play with his watch and sing the song in the restaurant.
    Mrs. Sorensen: Did you ever try being married? That can be quite a big adventure.

    Andersen: [sighs] Why do women always say that? Marriage ends adventure.

    Mrs. Sorensen: [copies sigh] Why do men always say that?
    When Mrs S. is being interrogated she's about to be undressed in front of the assembled company but doesn't seem to mind. Maybe she thinks those MASSIVE shoulder pads will hide her?



    Then when they're captured and tied up she has to "use her long legs" to help get him free his feet.



    Andersen then stands up to free his hands
    Andersen: "I shall have to hurt you"

    Mrs. S: "Go ahead" <winces>
    Then he ties her up again - does she enjoy that a bit too much? He goes off gallivanting leaving the damsel tied up - not the act of a gentleman and what about that "stolen" kiss just before he went?



    After the battle, Andersen rescues her (and Mr Pidgeon) and leads them up to the top floor where he can shine the torch on her legs again as she walks across the beam (or whatever it is).



    Then there's that final scene back in his cabin where they hold each other close. He tells her to drop the lifejacket and it tumbles to the floor - what happens next?



    As I said sexy with a bit of kinkiness thrown in

    All very risqu� for 1940.



    BTW The film also has what I consider to be one of the cleverest lines in a film of the period.



    Mr Pidgeon (Esmond Knight) is a talent scout looking for new variety acts to bring to Britain. When they are all being interviewed by the Royal Navy inspection party they say to him that that must be hard work.
    Mr Pidgeon: Oh, Per Ardua Ad Astra.
    "Per Ardua Ad Astra" is of course, the motto of the Royal Air Force and means "Through adversity to the stars". Well I thought it was clever



    Steve

  3. #3
    Senior Member Country: United States TimR's Avatar
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    It is an unsual film: I am not sure what genre it fits.



    In some ways it is the closest I have seen among British films to the American romantic comedies of the 30s and early 40s which are among my favorites: the dry humor, the impeccable timing, the initial ambivalence and the easy rapport and electricty between the two stars. At the same time it is an espionage melodrama that reminds me of The 39 Steps.



    Veidt and Hobson are terrific together. I would have liked to have seen them together again in something else.

  4. #4
    Super Moderator Country: Great Britain
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    Try The Spy in Black by the same team.



    Beat you Steve!



    Nick

  5. #5
    Administrator Country: Wales Steve Crook's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nick Dando
    Try The Spy in Black by the same team.

    Beat you Steve!

    Nick
    You did indeed, well done



    Contraband is more of a light hearted romp with a serious subject behind it. There's a lot of comedy, and a lot of flirting and sexual innuendo.



    The Spy in Black is a bit more serious all round, although it still has moments of comedy to relieve the tension and a bit of flirting between the stars.



    The Spy in Black was already in production but wasn't working at all well. So Korda brought in a staff writer to tidy up the script and a contract director to sharpen up the action. That writer was Emeric Pressburger and the director was Michael Powell. It was a match made in heaven



    Steve

  6. #6
    Senior Member Country: United States TimR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nick Dando
    Try The Spy in Black by the same team.

    Beat you Steve!

    Nick
    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Crook
    You did indeed, well done

    Contraband is more of a light hearted romp with a serious subject behind it. There's a lot of comedy, and a lot of flirting and sexual innuendo.



    The Spy in Black is a bit more serious all round, although it still has moments of comedy to relieve the tension and a bit of flirting between the stars.



    The Spy in Black was already in production but wasn't working at all well. So Korda brought in a staff writer to tidy up the script and a contract director to sharpen up the action. That writer was Emeric Pressburger and the director was Michael Powell. It was a match made in heaven



    Steve
    Thanks Nick and Steve. That will go to the top of my list.

  7. #7
    Super Moderator Country: England
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Crook
    It was a match made in heaven

    Steve
    A match made in Denham, surely???

    The US firm Kino classify Contraband as BritNoir; that's as good as a classification as I can think of....

  8. #8
    Administrator Country: Wales Steve Crook's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by penfold
    A match made in Denham, surely???
    Well Denham was quite close to Heaven at the time

    The US firm Kino classify Contraband as BritNoir; that's as good as a classification as I can think of....
    That's how I classify it as well, that and The Small Back Room are as good an example of it as any.



    Some purists object to the term though. They insist that there is only one "film noir" and they must have been made in America, shot in B&W, set in times contemporary to when it was made and made between 1927-1958.



    But I never did like restrictive genre descriptions like that so I'm quite happy to use the term BritNoir



    Steve

  9. #9
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    Although I am a great fan of Powell & Pressburger, this is a film that I've never really paid much attention to until I saw it again on Film 4 recently. A real little gem with a great performance from Conrad Veidt as the Captain.

    I hope I'm not alone in thinking this.



    And three cheers to Film 4 for showing some great old films on a weekday afternoon.

  10. #10
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    There doesn't seem to be a Region 2 release of this, and somehow I neglected to record it when it was on F4. Although there are no extras on the Region 1 Kino edition, does anyone know what the picture quality/sound is like ?.

  11. #11
    Administrator Country: Wales Steve Crook's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by snorky View Post
    There doesn't seem to be a Region 2 release of this, and somehow I neglected to record it when it was on F4. Although there are no extras on the Region 1 Kino edition, does anyone know what the picture quality/sound is like ?.
    No extras, as you say, but it's the full version (8 mins were cut from the original US release). Its picture quality & sound are perfectly adequate

    Steve

  12. #12
    Senior Member Country: Scotland Gerald Lovell's Avatar
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    Plus a double role for wee Hay Petrie!

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