The Masters  
The Powell & Pressburger Pages

Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.

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Original at The Onion A.V. Club


As part of its ongoing, and much-appreciated, series of film-noir reissues, Kino has unearthed two British films that may or may not fit the already loose definition of the genre. They Made Me A Fugitive, a 1947 thriller directed by Alberto Cavalcanti (Nicholas Nickleby), fits more easily into Britain's cycle of spiv films. Spivs, glorified black-marketeers who prospered from the shortages during and following WWII, served as the ambiguous protagonists for numerous British movies, Orson Welles' character in The Third Man serving as the apotheosis of the type. They Made Me A Fugitive offers spivs both good (Trevor Howard) and bad (Griffith Jones). When Howard seeks to leave the trade after discovering Jones' sideline business dealing drugs, Jones frames Howard for murder. After escaping from prison in an attempt to prove his innocence, Howard is set up again, making his predicament that much more dire. Stylishly shot, tensely acted, and not afraid to be dark, Fugitive is gripping viewing. Even better, though certainly not a film noir, is 1940's Contraband, directed by Michael Powell and written by partner Emeric Pressburger. A suspense film that finds Powell using the light, sure touch found in his comedies, the film stars Conrad Veidt (The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, Casablanca) as an imposing but romantic Danish sea captain. While detained in a British port during WWII, Veidt discovers that two of his passengers, including the comely Valerie Hobson, have sneaked off to London. Not wishing to be held responsible for their actions, he follows them and finds himself drawn into a web of intrigue involving Nazis and the employees of a Danish restaurant. A fast-paced, highly entertaining film, it's hard to believe that Contraband has been virtually unseen in America for years. Veidt and Hobson are both terrific, and Powell's crisp direction, which makes the most of scenes set during London's war-necessitated blackout, ranks with his best. It may not be noir -- and it's worth thinking about how such a lighthearted film could be made out of such a dire moment in British history -- but it's not to be missed. --Keith Phipps

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