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Contemporary Plot Synopsis

Contraband (1940)

Picturegoer and Film Weekly; May 11, 1940

Freely adapted from the film by Marjory Williams with permission of Anglo-American

Mrs. Sorensen, have you ever been put in irons? No - I thought not. You would find it more uncomfortable than wearing a life jacket."

Captain Andersen, skipper of the Scandinavian cargo vessel, "Helvig", bound for Copenhagen, congratulated himself that he was at least one up on his obdurate lady passenger. As he had previously remarked to his second mate, Mr. Hanson, on being told that Mrs. Sorensen had refused to wear her life jacket, "Troublesome women are all very well, but better encountered in peace time and ashore.

So now in his cabin, weary after a night on the bridge as the Helvig neared an East Coast British contraband control port, he mentally registered the fact that Mrs. Sorensen, in her trim suit, scarf and turban, had a very definite charm.

"You can't put me in irons because I refuse to wear a life jacket," she countered.

"You are mistaken, Mrs. Sorensen. I am captain of this ship. I am responsible for the safety of every person on board. Steward, fetch Mrs. Sorensen's life jacket."

Conscious of a calm stare from a pair of dark eyes, Captain Andersen found his tirade checked by a hasty knock on the door and the appearance of the second mate with a message. "You're wanted on the bridge, sir." A moment later, Mrs. Sorensen temporarily forgotten, he was looking through his binoculars at the international code flags as they were hoisted on the mast of a British patrol boat.

"Wish to speak with you," Captain Andersen repeated aloud. "Damned cheek. As if we weren't late enough already."

Nevertheless, he had no mind to be dictated to by a nation at war, and he gave the order "Full speed ahead." Whereat a fresh signal from the patrol boat, "Heave to, or take the consequences," accompanied by the sight of the business end of her guns, suggested to the Helvig's skipper that discretion was the better part of valour. An examining launch containing a search party having come aboard, Captain Andersen found his bridge invaded by two British naval officers who introduced themselves as Commander Ellis and Lieutenant Ashton.

"I can't say I'm pleased to see you gentlemen," he acknowledged, with a sour smile, whereat the uninvited guests, obviously used to being unwanted, produced a bundle of English newspapers.

"We shall want to see your ship's papers, captain. What is your cargo?"

"Iodine, castor seed, Cinchone bark."
[Cinchone or Cinchona bark is used to make quinine]

"I can see your point of view, captain. You see the unfortunate thing about war is that neutrals have to suffer. They may be carrying goods for our enemies and we have to see that they don't."

After a couple of hours, Commander Ellis reported: "The papers are in order and the examining officer is satisfied with the passengers, but the cargo is contraband. However it only remains to satisfy us that your cargo is intended for your country alone."

"How long will that take?"

"The ministry of Economic Warfare will give their answer tonight. There will be nothing to prevent you from sailing in the morning."

"Care to stretch your legs tonight, captain? How about some dinner?"

"Very good of you."

"They'll need two landing passes. I'll see to it," Lieutenant Ashton promised.

Blackout time, novelty for passengers and crew, descended. The ship's carpenter was blocking up portholes when Captain Andersen, looking for the landing passes, which had been put on his desk, found them missing. The discovery that the ship's motor boat had also been launched without leave sent him on a tour of inspection of the cabins. As he had half expected, except for her trunks and clothes, Mrs. Sorensen's was empty. At the same moment, Skjold appeared in the cabin, exclaiming: "Mr. Pidgeon has flown."

Mr. Pidgeon! Captain Andersen recalled this particular passenger - a little man with a black moustache and a habit of reading "Variety". To the examining officer he had described himself as a talent scout who brought over vaudeville acts from the States. [Often un-noticed is the comment by Mr Pidgeon when the examining officer says how that must be hard. "Oh Per Adua Ad Astra" says Mr P. (Through adversity to the stars - the motto of the R.A.F.)] The fact that during the voyage, he and Mrs. Sorensen had not been seen in conversation, Captain Andersen thought suspicious. But when he found that a newspaper cutting containing the Southern Railway's revised table of trains had obviously been taken by the fugitives, excitement broke down his usual reserve.

"Couple of spies, that's what they are most likely," he exclaimed. "And we're likely to stay in this port until they're arrested and tried and what not. We have to deal with this ourselves Skjold. Don't say a word to any one. Where's that duplicate newspaper? - oh, here - now - let's look. Eastgate-on-Sea - departure 6.46. Arrives Victoria 9.15. [2 ½ hours from Ramsgate (Eastgate) to London? That must have been a very slow train, even for the days of steam] I'll stop them catching that train if I have to swim ashore.

As a matter of fact, Captain Andersen was unduly optimistic. Having rowed himself and Skjold ashore in a dinghy, he only just managed to follow Mrs. Sorensen and Mr. Pidgeon onto the 6.46.

Rather to his surprise, on reaching Victoria, Mr. Pidgeon and she, on alighting, walked off in different directions. Darkness notwithstanding, Captain Andersen caught up with Mrs. Sorensen, caught her arms as she would have passed and swung her round to face him.

"How dare you go ashore and steal my landing passes?"

"Let me go - let go. You don't want to be mixed up with the police, do you?"

"Where is Mr. Pidgeon? - no use your looking as if you'd never heard of Mr. Pidgeon, except as a theatrical agent. I believe that if I stick to you, I shall see Mr. Pidgeon again."

"Oh, do you? Well you can count on me being back on the 'Helvig' before sailing time."

"In the blackout? The last train, by the way, after the one at midnight, to leave here due to arrive at Eastgate-on-Sea before six a.m., is three-thirty. Unless we find the gentleman before then, where you go, I go."

Ultimately, they took a hansom cab to "The Three Vikings", a Danish restaurant owned by Skjold's brother, who proved, after some doubts as to the captain's identity, to be a friend in need. To the accompaniment of national wine and food, a friendship born of something more enduring than the goodwill of an evening began to flower.

"Where now?" Captain Andersen asked as, after a taxi drive, he flashed his torch on to the keyhole of a front door which Mrs. Sorensen stood prepared to open.

"This is Chester Square - my aunt's home. You'll like her." He followed her into a spacious hall, but to Mrs. Sorensen's calls of "Auntie - auntie - aunt Kate, where are you?" no one answered. Imitating Mrs. Sorensen, Captain Andersen began a search of various rooms. On the threshold of one on the first floor, he was brought up sharply at the sight of a man sitting in an armchair and holding a revolver.

He shut the door quickly and realized that Mrs. Sorensen had joined him, terror in her eyes. Behind her, a couple of armed men had mounted the stairs. At the same moment, a young woman, smartly dressed, with a somewhat fanatical expression, appeared from the floor above and observed:-

"Good evening Mrs. Sorensen. Good evening Mr. Pidgeon. My name is Lang, secretary to Herr van Dyne of the Nazi Secret Service."

"I'm not Mrs. Sorensen, I'm Miss Clayton. This is my aunt's house - Mrs. Clayton. Where is she? And may I add that this gentleman is not Mr. Pidgeon."

A journey by car under escort of Miss Lang and her armed confederates, added to Andersen's conviction that Miss Clayton was an English spy badly trapped.

Captain Andersen tried to enliven matters for his fellow prisoner by singing lustily and receiving for his pains a blow on the head from a life preserver. [A life preserver is a small cosh - intended to preserve the life of the person carrying it] He recovered consciousness in a large room, evidently the basement of a building, to which access was given by a lift. Lying in an armchair, he came to realize that Herr van Dyne, a middle-aged man who took pains to hide his nationality by an English-sounding voice, was handing Mrs. Sorensen her cigarette case and saying quite pleasantly:-

"Nothing in it but one hand-rolled cigarette."

"No - may I have it, Herr van Dyne?"

"Certainly. You always did prefer your own cigarettes. I remember in our last little battle of wills, you --" Suddenly he withdrew the lighter he had been holding for her, snatched the cigarette from her lips and stubbed out the barely glowing end on an ashtray. Removing the cigarette to a desk, he unrolled it and shook out the tobacco. His voice betrayed a fractional excitement.

"Ah! the peculiar watermark M.47, plus the neutral names under which four German vessels are expected to sail for the Atlantic. Well - we may let the Admiralty have their message, but we shall insert the names of other ships - preferably American - due to be in Atlantic waters."

Thus, whilst the midnight train pulled out of Victoria Station for Eastgate-on-Sea, Captain Andersen found himself seated back to back with Miss Clayton, their wrists being bound together above their heads and attached to the same pillar. The basement in which they were was in darkness and appeared to be empty.

"I'm sorry I dragged you into this," Miss Clayton apologised. "I do hope my boss, Mr. Pidgeon, is clever, otherwise we're sunk."

"You've both escaped from Herr van Dyne before - now we can try it. Perhaps you noticed I stiffened my muscles before I was tied up. If I relax, I get a little play on the rope. You have high heels and long legs. Hook the heels into the ropes round the chair legs and give a good pull - hard as you can - there, you've done it - now to untie you." For a second only, he clasped her hands, well aware there was no time to waste.

"You can find a way our," she entreated. "Once out you can get in again and come back for me. You may have to fight your way. How do we know what's above here?"

"True." By the pillar, where she had reseated herself, his eyes probed hers, "Do you trust me?"

"Yes - try and get hold of, and warn Mr. Pidgeon." He slipped off his overcoat and draped it over the chair in which he had been roped. One swift kiss, the first between them, and he was on his way to adventure and the lift.

In the captain's cabin of the M.S. Helvig, her clearance flags flying in the grey dawn, Captain Andersen faced his once mysterious lady passenger. If not quite certain whether he stood on his head or his heels, he might have been excused. Since leaving the headquarters of the Nazi spy ring, he had become involved in events in a giddy succession and veering towards the sensational. Not only had he narrowly escaped arrest on leaving the building, but a hand to hand fight had taken place there; a free-for-all in which Herr van Dyne and his associates had been challenged by Mr. Skjold and the waiters of "The Three Vikings," whom Captain Andersen had enrolled as supporters.

For him had been reserved the crowning incident of the tussle - that of rendering Herr van Dyne unconscious and an easy victim for the police, by hitting the Nazi leader over the head with a plaster bust of Mr. Chamberlain. [British Prime Minister until replaced by Churchill on 10th May 1940] All this had taken place whilst Mr. Pidgeon, also, by this time, the Nazis' prisoner, and Miss Clayton had been escaping by way of the roof.

"I've had enough trouble because of you and I fancy I shall have more," was Captain Andersen's prediction to the young woman who, twelve hours before, had refused to carry out his orders to wear a life jacket. Miss Clayton raised the article in question as a barrier between them. Then, as the life jacket fell to her feet, she let him come closer.

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