Sunday, 9 December 2012

ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S "BON VOYAGE" and "AVENTURE MALGACHE" - Review By Greg Klymkiw - KLYMKIW CHRISTMAS GIFT IDEA 2012 #13, Two Lost Hitchock Films from Milestone Film & Video (Milestone Cinematheque)

Milestone Film and Video presents two "lost" Hitchcock propaganda films made in Britain during World War II 
In this continuing series devoted to reviewing motion pictures ideal for this season of celebration and gift giving, here is KLYMKIW CHRISTMAS GIFT IDEA 2012 #13: A tremendous DVD for Hitchcock enthusiasts from Milestone Film and Video under their "Milestone Cinematheque" label - Alfred Hitchock's "Bon Voyage" and , , ,
"Aventure Malgache",
. . . two short propaganda films by Hitchcock never widely shown and sealed in Top Secret files of the British War Department since 1944.
In 1994 when Milestone co-founder Dennis Doros urged the the British Film Institute to rescue the works from oblivion these two curious and important works in Hitchcock's canon were finally made available to the world. 

Alfred Hitchcock's "Bon Voyage" & "Aventure Malgache"
dir. Alfred Hitchcock (1944) ****
Starring: John Blythe, The Molière Players

Review By Greg Klymkiw

On more than one occasion, Alfred Hitchcock was quoted as saying that "spying is a dirty business" and so it is - in both life and the movies. Hitchcock was so obsessed with the duplicity and furthermore, duplicities upon duplicities upon duplicities (and then some) of espionage activities, that many of his most suspenseful works deal with this dark world of lying and deception.

Most major filmmakers on both sides of the pond separating UK and USA were called into the active duty of creating propaganda films and assist in the war effort against the Nazis. It stood to reason that the Master of Suspense would also be enlisted in this worthwhile cause. He was, of course, but as his mission was to create two short dramatic works extolling the brave virtues of the French Resistance in their underground war against both the turncoat Vichy government and the Nazis during the occupation of France, nobody quite reckoned upon the force of genius that would never be capable of rendering straightforward propaganda.

What interested Hitchcock most were:

(i) the conflicting ideals within the Resistance movement;
(ii) human nature, its malleability under extreme stress & most of all;
(iii) the disturbing and controversial reality that so much of the espionage within the underground movement (and espionage period) was based upon a myriad of individual points of view - many of which did not always have first-person interpretations of the events, but even when they did, they were tempered by personal perspectives and assumptions.

These are things that should interest anyone on both dramatic levels and frankly in terms of presenting some reasonable cinematic approximation of what actually was going on in this strange situation when so many countries, beleaguered as they were by Nazi occupation forces, set up home bases in the UK and operated with fluctuating British interest levels in said resistance activities.

Hitchcock's real goals had almost nothing to do with propaganda. He admitted to giving it the old college try, but also acknowledged that he failed as a straightforward propagandist. Where he excelled with both films was in creating dazzling suspense, dark expressionistic moods and tales replete with considerable food for thought due to his attention to the notion of perspective.

Bon Voyage is a nail bitingly thrilling adventure that involves a young Scottish operative in France who rescues a Polish freedom fighter wanted by the Nazis. The story of escape from a world of backstabbing and betrayal is brilliantly told in flashback by the young Scotsman. Safely in Britain he delivers his verbal report of the danger-at-every-turn escape mission. The tale he tells his superiors involves sneaking about at night with his Polish charge and depending upon one complex piece of a resistance puzzle after another to eventually escape the clutches of the Vichy and Gestapo.

It's a thrilling tale with even a dash of potential romance. At the mid point of the film, however, something is thrown into the mix that creates a mystery far more duplicitous and perilous. An item the Scotsman's filed away as a personal matter turns into the key to unlock a far more insidious series of events that threaten the security of both England and the resistance movement.

As rendered by Hitchcock, the whole mystery becomes even more suspenseful as we're presented with a second and perhaps even third-hand recounting of what the young Scotsman's gone through - one that completely negates his story and suggests activities revealing a far more fragile, unstable architecture to the whole resistance movement.

Hardly the stuff of "acceptable" propaganda, though it's a lot more intriguing and thought provoking than if it had been.

The movie also features a couple of moments of unexpectedly brutal violence that not only render the tale topsy-turvy, but also fall in line with another oft-quoted Hitchcock belief that: "It is extremely difficult to kill someone." No matter what age or circumstances Hitchcock made his films in, he understood, perhaps more than any other director how to render violence in both a shocking and provocative fashion. There are two "kills" in the film that are as harrowing as any in his canon.

Aventure Malgache is a wily and clever movie that was borne out of Hitchcock's own experience with the powers-that-be who were presiding over the propaganda departments of both the British government as well as the exiled French Liberationist movement. The suspense factor is a tad overshadowed here by the trick pony wrap-around involving a group of Frenchmen living in exile in England who are acting in an amateur theatre company. One of the performers is having trouble nailing down the motivation for him to adequately play his role and another actor, once a respected resistance-tied immigration lawyer on the island of Malgache, tells him a tale of betrayal and smuggling political prisoners. In flashbacks, all the liberationists and Vichy are played by the actors who are in the play.

The film is definitely dark, but it appears to have more of an accent on satire rather than suspense. Like Bon Voyage it's crisply directed and edited. The story barrels along with panache and we're given a unique view into another time and place - albeit with Hitchcock's own political perspective on the situation that makes for interesting characters, but little in the way of simple, effective propaganda.

Both short films are superbly shot by Günther Krampf with decidedly noir-like lighting and Hitchcock's trademark compositions. As well, the films are performed by uncredited actors - many of whom were not professionals and lived in exile in the UK. John Blythe, who plays the Scottish operative in Bon Voyage is the only actor with an official individual credit. The others, a completely French-speaking cast living in exile in the UK are collectively credited as The Molière Players (to keep their remaining family members in France relatively safer from Vichy and the Gestapo).

The very clever use of flashback and point of view storytelling conceits are brilliantly employed to bridge gaps over elements of the tales that might otherwise have proven too cost prohibitive. Not only do they serve this practical purpose, but place far more effective emphasis upon the characters and Hitchcock's desire to explore HOW stories are told and are affected by individual points of view.

Both of these films are historically and cinematically significant works in Hitchcock's canon and all lovers of cinema and, in particular, Hitchcock fans will derive considerable pleasure from seeing two films that were buried for 50 years.

Alfred Hitchcock's "Bon Voyage" & "Aventure Malgache" are available in a very nice DVD volume from Milestone Film and Video.

In USA and the rest of the WORLD - BUY Alfred Hitchcock Bon Voyage - HERE!