Ealing Studios is one of the few vintage British production companies whose name has currency on this side of the pond (only Hammer is better known here), and its films are synonymous with a certain type of English comedy involving class, can-do attitudes and a conservative bureaucracy getting its comeuppance. This 1942 war film initially seems like business as usual: A provincial village goes about its daily business, be it harmlessly gossiping about the vicar or poaching in the woods. Soldiers arrive, ostensibly for a training exercise; invitations are extended and cuppas served. Then it becomes apparent to both these rural denizens and us that something isn't quite right about these lads in uniform. They're actually undercover Nazis, prepping the U.K. for Hitler's invasion. And once the ruse is dropped, the population's stiff upper lips start snarling.
The smooth switch-up from typical Ealing satire to a tense WWII thriller---engineered by director Alberto Cavalcanti, a Brazilian migr to Britain---is nothing short of a narrative coup. Just as shocking is the way England's mountains green get stained red once the Nazis start gunning people down in cold blood (including kids). On a deeper level, this prototype for a man-on-a-mission potboiler gives you an incredible sense of the stakes during the days of bombing raids and necessary vigilance (even a country gent might be a Fifth Columnist!)---as well as the hint that, once the chips were down, average Brits could band together and show those bally Jerrys a thing or two. Home-front propaganda has rarely seemed so cutthroat or so cunning; for Americans, the chance to see this rarity is an opportunity to indulge in the sort of cinematic ecstasy that makes us obsessed with movies in the first place.
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