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Contraband (1940)

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  • Contraband (1940)

    This was next on my list of Powell-Pressburger films, and also happened to be included on the list of films that include period location footage of London, in this case on the eve of war. So there were good reasons to see it, but I must admit that I was not looking forward to it because espionage melodramas are not usually my sort of film. They usually seem to me to be much ado about nothing.

    Well, this turned out to be a pleasant surprise. I should be accustomed to that with Powell and Pressburger! In this case, the location filming, the performances of Conrad Veidt and Valerie Hobson and, especially, the combination of Powell and Pressburger working together for the first time work together to make it absorbing, fascinating and at times exciting.

    There is a strong romantic chemistry between Veidt and Hobson and superb timing in their scenes together. The idea of a dignified, somewhat stiff-necked Danish captain following stray passengers who vanish off his freighter into London is just unusual enough to make the story intriguing from the beginning, and the plot is clever enough to hold the interest - and it is the gently bantering dialogue handled by two professionals that makes the story a pleasure to watch.

    The real interest for me is in the unusual mix of romantic comedy and escape melodrama in a thriller set in London during the blackout. The blackout sequences are extraordinary, and while the villains are never really very threatening, the atmosphere and setting convey the threat of war very effectively thanks to Powell, and to the cinematographer. It was interesting to read that the brilliant Freddie Young is responsible for the camera work. The scenes of the ships and the blackout seem like a documentary – similar to the Montevideo sequence in The Battle of the River Plate. However, the scenes are more convincing here.

    What an outstanding actor Conrad Veidt was! His screen presence is so powerful that he dominates every scene he is in, and his sense of humor and timing are impeccable. At the same time, Valerie Hobson more than holds her own. If she didn't have her own strength, the balance of the story wouldn't work.

  • #2
    This isn't P&Ps first film together. That accolade goes to The Spy in Black, another wartime espionage film with Conrad Veidt and Valerie Hobson. It's well worth a watch, too.



    • #3
      Contraband (1940) gets my prize as the sexiest film that P&P ever made

      Everyone first thinks of BN, TRS (or maybe GTE) when they think of P&P's sexiest movie, but consider ...

      It starts when Andersen (Conrad Veidt) calls Mrs. Sorensen (Valerie Hobson) to his cabin & asks if she wants to be chained up ("clapped in irons")

      When Capt Andersen (Connie) is looking for Mrs Sorenson (Valerie) on board the ship, first he nearly gets ensnared by the young lady doing the exercises on her bed - "You can read the newspaper here."
      In fact she's Mrs. Abo (Olga Edwardes), the young, beautiful wife of Prof. Abo (Eric Berry) who's seen in the dining room with her. She's also his ex-student so the Prof isn't as frail and doddery as he looks.
      Then Capt Andersen goes into Mrs Sorenson's cabin and while he's looking for clues as to where she might be he's fondling the stockings that she's left on the drawer.

      When Andersen tracks Mrs Sorenson to London he nearly follows her into the ladies toilets !!

      When they get to London he follows her in the blackout by keeping his torch shining on her long legs & high heels.

      There's all the "flirty banter" and touching while they play with his watch and sing the song in the restaurant.
      Mrs. Sorensen: Did you ever try being married? That can be quite a big adventure.
      Andersen: [sighs] Why do women always say that? Marriage ends adventure.
      Mrs. Sorensen: [copies sigh] Why do men always say that?
      When Mrs S. is being interrogated she's about to be undressed in front of the assembled company but doesn't seem to mind. Maybe she thinks those MASSIVE shoulder pads will hide her?

      Then when they're captured and tied up she has to "use her long legs" to help get him free his feet.

      Andersen then stands up to free his hands
      Andersen: "I shall have to hurt you"
      Mrs. S: "Go ahead" <winces>
      Then he ties her up again - does she enjoy that a bit too much? He goes off gallivanting leaving the damsel tied up - not the act of a gentleman and what about that "stolen" kiss just before he went?

      After the battle, Andersen rescues her (and Mr Pidgeon) and leads them up to the top floor where he can shine the torch on her legs again as she walks across the beam (or whatever it is).

      Then there's that final scene back in his cabin where they hold each other close. He tells her to drop the lifejacket and it tumbles to the floor - what happens next?

      As I said sexy with a bit of kinkiness thrown in
      All very risqué for 1940.

      BTW The film also has what I consider to be one of the cleverest lines in a film of the period.

      Mr Pidgeon (Esmond Knight) is a talent scout looking for new variety acts to bring to Britain. When they are all being interviewed by the Royal Navy inspection party they say to him that that must be hard work.
      Mr Pidgeon: Oh, Per Ardua Ad Astra.
      "Per Ardua Ad Astra" is of course, the motto of the Royal Air Force and means "Through adversity to the stars".

      Well I thought it was clever



      • #4
        I really enjoyed this film, and couldn't believe that I hadn't seen it before, or had it in my collection !. I knew that I had The Spy In Black, but kept confusing the two films. Although it is on YouTube, the picture is really soft, so I got the Kino release which is good, but sadly no extras. Incredible that there has been no UK Region2 release !.


        • #5
          Originally posted by oddbodjunior View Post
          I really enjoyed this film, and couldn't believe that I hadn't seen it before, or had it in my collection !. I knew that I had The Spy In Black, but kept confusing the two films. Although it is on YouTube, the picture is really soft, so I got the Kino release which is good, but sadly no extras. Incredible that there has been no UK Region2 release !.
          Contraband (1940) has the same leading players as The Spy in Black (1939) so it's understandable why you should confuse them.
          But in Contraband, Connie Veidt is a goodie, in The Spy in Black he's essentially a baddie.
          Valerie Hobson is a bit of a hero in both films. She's working for the good guys in both films

          The Kino release is the best one that's currently available. As you say, there are no extras but it's the full version (8 mins were cut from the original US release)
          It's a region 0 (no region control) as far as I can tell, but my players are set to play disks from any region without telling me which region the disk is coded for (if it is)