92 minutes| U.K.| 1942| Black and White| D-Cinema

Based on Greene’s short story The Lieutenant Died Last, this is one of Ealing’s finest films, a ‘what if . . . ?’ parable of disturbing power. A German patrol disguised as British soldiers on manoeuvres captures an English village prior to a full-scale invasion, but the villagers fight back. Intended by Greene as a propaganda piece to show British bravery under duress, the film accomplishes that, but also disquietingly discloses complacency as well as courage. By having the Germans played by familiar British actors, the film is the reverse of reassuring, and two extraordinary murder scenes committed by women in the village illustrate, in director Alberto Cavalcanti’s view, how people of the kindest character can become monsters when war touches them. Controversially, Cavalcanti thought it a pacifist work: it is certainly the most remarkable British war film of its time, depicting an England fighting for its life and, implicitly, for a new social order when the war is won.

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