September 26, 2016

The Next of Kin (1942)

Most military propaganda films are restricted for private use by military branches, but “Next of Kin” was a rare exception in that the plot involves civilians, the loved ones who are usually the first to get the bad news that a soldier in their family was killed during combat. It was for this reason that Winston Churchill initially attempted to ban the film from the movie going public on grounds that it would demoralize civilians, but director Thorold Dickinson believed that it should be available for public screening so that family members would be made aware of what can happen when “loose lips sink ships.” Released in 1942 during the middle of the war, it was necessary for everyone to know how important it was for the Allied Forces to win the war through the most important form of security: being able to remain silent about the plans that would bring them victory.

“Next of Kin” opens with a scene on the French countryside at Norville in a church where two women and a man are praying for safety as an armed guard stands in the doorway. Located close to the English Channel on the Seine, there is a great concern that the Nazis could attack at any given moment should they be made aware of the presence of the British military. In 1942, Norville is occupied by the Wehrmacht and saw two Allied raids. From the church to a military office in England, we see Captain Mercier (Basil Sydney) and a colonel (Frederick Leister) meeting with Major Richards (Reginald Tate) who is assigned to play an important security role for the 95th brigade. The Germans want to establish a military base at Norville, which is much too close for England’s comfort. At first Major Richards seems capable, but later on throughout the film it is reiterated again and again how every British soldier is the real security in the game of war, for all it takes is just one soldier to give out the wrong information to the wrong person at the wrong time for a Nazi attack to take place.

Right after Major Richards leaves the military office, a club scene where the soldiers go for a “morale boost” appears. A dancer (Phyllis Stanley) is standing at the top of a prop, a winding staircase where we also see the shadow of a female that seems to be frozen in time, not moving at all, the sole decoration on the stage. While a few soldiers complain that the dancer, named Clare, is too skinny for them, the rest of the men enjoy the performance. Once Clare finishes her routine, she retreats to her dressing room where her boyfriend, Private Jimmy (Richard Norris) shows up to tell her that he is going to be away on an important mission to Westport with the British Royal Army. At Westport, the troops will receive the necessary training for the war and are lectured about how important it is that they all remain quiet about their mission lest private information falls into enemy hands. They are not to give out any information to even their family members, especially not friends.

At this point the Germans are also making their plans, knowing that something is going to happen. One of the Nazi generals (Torin Thatcher) tells his men that any facts they can extract from the British will help them win the war. “From small facts there often spring big ideas”, he tells them. In this case, the small facts leaked out by the young British privates mount up to a degree of success for the Nazis in tracking down the 95th Brigade and springing a surprise attack on them by the Channel. A woman agent is suggested by one of the general’s men, but instead he requests that two men be sent to provide details of the equipment and type of training the brigade will be receiving. The two men who show up for the mission are referred to by their numbers: No. 23, also known as Mr. Davis (Mervyn Johns), and No. 16 (John Chandos). Davis is to meet with a spy, Mr. Barratt (Stephen Murray) in Westport to hand him information on the brigade. Barratt owns a bookstore and employs a young clerk, Beppie Leemans (Nova Pilbeam) whose boyfriend is also a private (Geoffrey Hibbert). Davis hands Barratt a book that has a coded message in one of the pages to confirm who Davis really is. Beppie receives a letter from John, her boyfriend, who mentions the brigade will be traveling to Watercombe, something he was not to tell anyone. Barratt does not give her the letter to read initially; instead he opens it and reads it to see if he could gain any secret information to pass on to the Nazi general.

Barratt then uses Beppie as a go-between, telling her the next time she sees John, to ask him where the 95th Brigade will be going. Barratt tells Beppie that her parents are in danger if she does not disclose to him the information he wants from her boyfriend John. After Beppie meets with John, enjoying time spent on a cliff overlooking the ocean, she tells Barratt that John has no idea where the brigade is going to after Westport. Barratt tells her that this information is strictly routine but when she discovers who Barratt really is, she refuses to give him any further information and eventually stabs him, killing him.

Davis gets a job at the Royal Ordnance Depot as a builder where he can have close connections to finding out exactly where the 95th Brigade will be so that he can pass the information on to the German General. One of several signs that appear in the movie shows up at the Depot which says “Telling a friend may mean telling the enemy.” Soon after, one of the privates with his girlfriend appears in a restaurant as he carries a briefcase containing the aerial shots, or mosaics, of where the British troops will be landing. Barratt manages to steal the briefcase and leaves another one that looks just like it, on the floor by the table where the private and his girlfriend are sitting. With the aid of a dentist, the photos are copied and passed on to the Nazis who waste no time in arranging their forces to attack the British, which ends up in heavy casualties for the British troops.

Narrated by J. Edgar Hoover at the opening and close of the film, a number of active duty officers portrayed the characters in the movie. From the Royal Armed Forces came Lt. Torin Thatcher,and 2nd Lt. Richard Norris; from the Royal Armed Forces Volunteer Reserve, Mervyn Johns; and from the Royal Army Service Corps, Lt. Com. Stephen Murray. Supporting actors Brefni O’Rorke as the Brigadier and Mary Clare as Mrs Webber, the mother of a Private round out a cast that realistically portrays characters who must realize the consequences for not remaining silent when they are supposed to. Basil Radford has a cameo appearance near the end of the movie, as a man on a train who repeats the same mistake the young British privates did. Well directed by Dickinson, “Next of Kin” was filmed at Ealing Studios and on location in Cornwall. This movie is actually a timeless propaganda film that can not only be used for military strategy, but also as a teaching tool for any age group that must understand why private information must remain private and never revealed to anyone, lest it be used against them.



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About Mary Haberstroh

Mary Haberstroh has written 17 post in this blog.