18 October 2008

Bon Voyage (1944) & Aventure Malgache (1944)

d. Alfred Hitchcock / UK / Two shorts, 57 mins.

"I was overweight and overage for military service, but I knew if I did nothing I'd regret it for the rest of my life." - Alfred Hitchcock

When production was complete on Lifeboat – Alfred Hitchcock's 1944 war thriller – he left America and traveled back to England. He had made a commitment with producer Sidney Bernstein to direct two short propaganda films, made in England but spoken in French, to be distributed by the British Ministry of Information to encourage the efforts of the French Resistance. Although the director had been assimilating himself in American culture and cinema, he still felt a tenacious patriotism with his home country and sought to help the war effort any way he still could.

The results are Bon Voyage (1944) and Aventure Malgache (1944), made in that order and each about thirty minutes apiece. Although they weren't features, they also were not trifles. Hitchcock had been assigned the two because of their political depth and nuance, and the Ministry of Information believe he, of all directors, would be able to deliver nuance in a superior way. Propaganda was also a serious business, and Hitchcock and the producers sought to make the two films as authentically French as could be, fearing the slightest flub in French mannerisms or lifestyle could lead the film to be scoffed at in France. (On a side note: Bon Voyage was given an initial treatment by V.S. Pritchett, and both shorts were written by Angus MacPhail, a writer and story editor whom Hitchcock had met when he worked as a young director in England.)

Of the two, Bon Voyage is the superior film in all regards. Its story is of a young RAF pilot who crashes into France and is helped to escape, although the identity of his accomplice is mysterious. The short feels very much like the kind of espionage film Hitchcock might have made for a studio in England or Hollywood (and indeed, he frequently mused that he wanted to bring a feature-length version of it to life). The story unfolds through two points of view – a structural effect that would reach its pinnacle in Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon, six years later – and there is good editing and lovely expressionistic cinematography. Whether it is effective as propaganda is an interesting point to consider; it is subtle (no more rousing than any anti-Nazi and pro-civilian film that came out of Hollywood) and at times I was rather caught up in its filmmaking style rather than in its story. Still, while brief and largely unseen, it would have been endlessly intriguing to see what kind of feature Hitchcock could have assembled without the constraints of the MOI.

Aventure Malgache – literal translation, "Malagasy Adventure," or an adventure in Madagascar – is perplexing and befuddled. While both films play around with the timeline of their plots, Aventure Malgache is not as successful. It is talky and dense, and although its narrative structure is out of joint like Bon Voyage, there is far too much cutting and time shifting to be appropriate for only thirty minutes. The story begins with the Molière players, sitting in the dressing room before a performance and swapping stories about a man who betrayed the Resistance and then their own adventures in the war, but it all runs together in sort of an incoherent blur. The Ministry of Information had its own troubles with Aventure Malgache, outside what a film critic might see. Called it too nuanced: high-ranking officers believed Hitchcock was incorrect in showing slight in-fighting and disagreement within the ranks of the French Resistance. The Ministry has a vested interest in portraying a solidly unified front with the Allies, and while Bon Voyage saw a limited release, for all intents and purposes Aventure Malgache was shelved.

The great historical irony of the excursion to England for the two propaganda shorts is that even though they were directed by Hitchcock – who had already overseen multiple masterpieces and whose first American feature won the Academy Award for Best Picture – they were scarcely shown. Bon Voyage was released into some French theaters, but Aventure Malgache, deemed unfocused in its criticism and advocacy, was shelved.

After the war they were hardly screened again and sat mostly unseen on the shelves at the British Film Institute for fifty years. In the early 1990s they were given proper release, mostly for curiosity's sake, and curiosity should be the only reason you check them out today.

Note: As short propaganda films, they are not frequently associated with Hitchcock's standard filmography and are thus not rated on the star scale.


darkcitydame4e 19 October, 2008  

Salut! T.S.,
Une fois de plus! très détaillé et intéressant l'examen de 2 "rare" films du réalisateur Alfred Hitchcock "oeuvres".
(Selon les critiques de cinéma, "Les films sont en français, il faut sous-titres et peut-être un peu de distraction».)

Parce que je me considère comme un Hitchcock completist, je dois acheter ces 2 titres à ajouter à ma collection Hitchcock. (Sous-titres ou sans sous-titres!)

T.S. a déclaré: «Les deux courts métrages ont été écrits par Angus MacPhail, un écrivain et un éditeur de texte qui Hitchcock a rencontré quand il a travaillé comme un jeune réalisateur en Angleterre."

Oh! Je sais que tous les propos de l'écrivain Augus MacPhail, il a inventé le terme "MacGuffin" (Pendant le tournage de The 39 Steps ), qui Hitchcock continuer à utiliser grâce à son film en carrière.
Le terme fait référence à un événement insignifiant que le simple fait de sauter-a commencé l'histoire.
Voir: Alfred Hitchcock: Triviography livre et quiz. (Pages 68-69)


darkcitydame4e 19 October, 2008  

Hi! T.S.,
Once again! a very detailed and interesting review of 2 "rare" films from director Alfred Hitchcock "oeuvres."
(According to film critics,"The movies are in French so it requires following sub-titles and maybe a bit of a distraction.")

Because I consider myself a Hitchcock completist, I must purchase these 2 titles to add to my Hitchcock collection.(Sub-titles or no subtitles!)

T.S. said,"Both shorts were written by Angus MacPhail, a writer and story editor whom Hitchcock had met when he worked as a young director in England."

Oh! I know all about writer Augus MacPhail, he coined the term "Macguffin" (During the filming of The 39 Steps) which Hitchcock continue to use through out his movie making career.
The term referred to an insignificant event that simply jump-started the story.
See: Alfred Hitchcock:Triviography and Quiz book.(Pages 68-69)


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