Contraband

1940, Movie, NR, 92 mins

Review

CONTRABAND | BLACKOUT
starstarstarstar
An odd little comic thriller — who, except perhaps Michael Powell, would cast 47-year-old CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI star Conrad Veidt as a light romantic hero? — set in the darkness of London during the WWII blackout. Captain Andersen (Conrad Veidt) commands a Danish freighter that's delayed in port by British customs agents on the lookout for military contraband. While the ship is docked, two passengers slip ashore, even though they've been ordered to stay on board. Mild-mannered Mr. Pidgeon (Esmond Knight) has kept a low profile during the trip, but the Captain has already butted heads with Mrs. Sorenson (Valerie Hobson), a willful Englishwoman who lives by the credo that rules were made for other people. His honor as an officer affronted by his passengers' disobedience, Andersen goes ashore and tries to find them. He catches up to Mrs. Sorenson in London, and gradually comes to realize that she's a spy on a mission to root out a Nazi cell operating out of the basement of a Soho nightclub. The movie's tone is a bit uneven; the comedy (heavy on the Danish jokes, and to be honest, the Danes don't lend themselves to it) and the straightforward espionage material don't entirely mesh. But Powell pulls off a couple of stunning sequences — notably a shootout in a storage room filled with plaster busts — and makes fluid use of the wartime setting: The mundane details of day-to-day life in a blacked-out metropolis are just fascinating. This was to have been Deborah Kerr's first feature film; unfortunately, she was left on the cutting room floor as her scenes were deleted from the final print. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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