Time hasn’t been particularly kind to this Michael Powell-Emeric Pressburger propaganda effort from 1941, which had the double distinction of providing a rare tribute to Canada’s contribution to the Allied war effort while edging the then-neutral United States into World War II. The latter ploy was ill-timed (the film didn’t receive an American release until 1942, thus making that focus moot) while the tribute to the Canadian people seems very strange by contemporary standards (the Canucks are presented as a goofy and rather silly bunch, particularly in Laurence Olivier’s broad interpretation of a Quebec fur trapper).
The plot, which concerns a group of Nazi sailors who are stranded in Canada when their submarine is bombed, is too predictable to conceive; there’s even an airplane hijacking, if you can believe it. The humorless martinet Germans (with conspicuous British accents) try and, of course, fail, to travel from Nova Scotia to Vancouver for a rendezvous with a Japanese submarine.
Along the way, the Nazis encounter resistance from guest stars Raymond Massey, Leslie Howard and a young Glynis Johns. There’s also Chinese actor Ley On as a comic relief Eskimo cook, clearly playing the Inuit version of Stepin Fetchit (complete with broken English and clownish subservience).
Incredibly, the film’s original story won an Academy Award. Today, it will generate more grimaces and groans than trophies. The DVD’s special features, including the rarely-seen Powell-Pressburger 1943 short “The Volunteer” and the BBC documentary on the duo’s complete careers, offer much needed distraction from this vintage silliness.