Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Submarine Alert, 1943

The first third of this American WWII movie is so depressing that honestly, I nearly stopped watching it. Luckily, after the first part, the film became an enjoyable thriller. But that first twenty minutes - urgh. 

Here's the depressing plot: As a ploy to flush some traitors out, the FBI orders firms to fire their radio specialists, with the theory that while the radio specialists are down and out, they'll be approached by foreign agents who sense their desperation. The FBI know the radio specialists are innocent, you understand. But they decide to ruin their lives anyway just on the off chance. 

Depressed yet? I was appalled. It was the a matter of fact way they went about it, as if they do worse every day and it's perfectly acceptable.

Then, not only do the FBI  get the men fired, they blacklist them so no other employer will touch them.  Of course, the leading man of the film (Deerhold, played by Richard Arlen) happens to have a sick child who needs an operation at the same time he loses his income. For a while, Deerhold thinks his luck might have changed, because he meets a nice woman (Wendy Barrie), only oh no - she's an FBI agent too, and she's actually spying on him.

You can see where this is headed. Soon Deerhold is in a right muddle, being shot at, chased down fire escapes and generally being baked alive in saunas.

This is where Nils Asther comes in. He plays the German Dr Arthur Huneker, a suave, if surprisingly incompetent Nazi. 

I'm Dr Arthur Huneker and I'm suave
I'm suave when waving my cigarette
Suave when signalling to submarines
Suave while sporting a gentlemanly pince nez
Even suave when watching someone get viciously
attacked by farm machinery in the first minute of the film

Dr Huneker and his Nazi chums need Deerhold because they've messed up and broken their submarine-signalling radio. That's the kind of Nazis they are. But not before they trail Deerhold inexpertly for a while, from their super-secret Nazi base, the 'Old Mills Hot Springs Sanitorium', where Dr Huneker offers therapeutic treatments. Because that's also the kind of Nazis they are.

At one point Dr Huneker apologises to Deerhold, "We are amateurs at this kind of thing [compared to the FBI]." He's not wrong. 

Dr Huneker (seated) makes radio engineer Deerhold (left) a tempting offer while background Bela glares 

Dr Huneker does have a sidekick, Bela (Marc Lawrence). Bela's specialities are leaving evidence about the place, general incompetency, glaring, and even more glaring. Amusement is provided as Dr Huneker sighs and tuts at Bela. The longer the film goes on, the funnier this becomes, strangely, even as the body count rises.

At one point, however, I was was really chilled. Perhaps it's because I know that Asther was actually born in Denmark, even though he is playing German here, and that three scant years before this film was made, Denmark was invaded by the Germans.

Anyway, the super incompetent Nazi gang break into a huddle while discussing their latest little failings, when all of a sudden they break into a 'Heil Hitler' salute.

Asther does it in a kind of fussy, uncomfortable way, dusting his fingers off afterwards, which makes it slightly better, but still. 

The ending of the film is pure American jingoistic propaganda, which is about what you'd expect during WWII. 

Deerhold admits that he's been victimised by the FBI, but staggeringly, says he doesn't mind. He declares he's proud to be America, a place where they have the best way of life in the world - although his character isn't even American, but Canadian. It's all a little dubious and confused.

Deerhold decides he doesn't like the doctor's offer after all
But the FBI victimised you - says Dr Huneker. It's a fair point. 
On the other hand, alliance with Dr Huneker isn't that attractive until he stops slapping shipping magnates about and tying them to mill wheels.
Oh, and being a horrid nasty Nazi.

To view the whole film, copyright free, at the Internet Archive click here.

No comments:

Post a Comment