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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Submitted by Nicky Smith

Having a gay time in Canada
From Brief Encounters : Lesbians and Gays in British Cinema 1930-1971
By: Stephen Bourne

49th Parallel (released in Britain as The Invaders), made by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger is superficially wartime propaganda. Lieutenant Hirth (Eric Portman, in a role originally intended for Michael Redgrave), a Nazi U-boat commander, and four of his men are stranded in Canada, and they have to get to the border. The film episodically introduces them to a number of people who represent various qualities, some useful, and others dangerous in wartime. Laurence Olivier plays the devil-may-care but naive French-Canadian trapper whose lack of vigilance costs him his life. Anton Walbrook shines as Peter, the gentle religious sect leader and spiritual idealist, fine in his way, very noble, but in the long run no help in winning a war. As with so many Walbrook roles, he seems to be acting out his own personal outsider status with the full encouragement of Powell and Pressburger. His intimate scene with Vogel (Niall Macginnis), the decent sensitive Nazi (who is also rather ethereal) [Niall Macginnis - etheral ??? - Nicky], has a definite ring to it. Finally there's Leslie Howard as the novelist Philip Armstrong Scott who seems to be saying 'a plague on both your houses'. Ian Christie describes him as a whimsical English anthropologist and aesthete who maintains that 'wars may come and men may go but art goes on for ever' He lives close to the Indians in a tent in the wilderness, with paintings by Picasso and Matisse, a copy of Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain. Scott is an artistic outsider who makes merry with quips and -in one scene- with a direct sexual invitation to Lohrmann (John Chandos), one of Portman's men (who seems to have a thing for his leader). As with the Walbrook character, Howard is seen as a wanderer, with no need of women, just the wilderness and the Indians. Sussing the gay Nazi he fixes him with a potent gaze, holds it for a while, then provocatively says just one word: 'Interested?'

With Powell and Pressburger at the helm, Portman, Walbrook and Howard on the screen, and Rodney Ackland contributing to the script, easy judgements are not made. It preserves P and P's reputation for decency and honour in the depiction of Germans and English. It also confirms them, just before their 'great' period, as completely original film-makers, with a faerie quality that allows them to treat lightly some terrible dark themes.

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