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The Film Answers Back
EW & MM Robson and 49th Parallel

Barry William Sullivan (Remove the nospam. from the email address)
12 March 2012


With grateful thanks to Kaye Clark (Kirkbean Heritage Society), Morag Williams (Dumfries and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society), Gabriel Harrington and Elizabeth Robson Taylor.

49th Parallel (1941) was the first of Powell and Pressburger's war-time films to be criticised for its portrayal of both Nazis and Allies alike by EW & MM Robson: who were the Robsons, what motivated this criticism and to what extent was it justified?

There can have been few sillier or more improbable cinematic squabbles than the one which began in April 1942 in the columns of the Dumfries and Galloway Standard, was pursued in 1944 in E.W. and M.M. Robson's booklet The Shame and Disgrace of Colonel Blimp, and again in 1947 in the Robsons' book The World is My Cinema [...] What it amounts to is that the extreme right wing, jingoistic Robsons were accusing the high Tory Powell and the committedly anti-Nazi Pressburger of being insufficiently out of sympathy with that famous reactionary zealot Adolf Hitler and his pack of unspeakable Huns. All very weird, and happily now long forgotten. 1
Although accusations of failing to sufficiently promote British and allied interests due to depicting 'too much sympathy for the enemy' 2 were more famously attributed to their later film, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), it was concern about the potentially negative impact that Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's 49th Parallel (1941) could have had on morale which initially attracted the ire of author, Mary Major Robson. Despite being largely forgotten about today the work of Robson and her husband, Emanuel, speculated on the psychological impact of cinema on its audience and in turn called into question the suitability of 49th Parallel as war-time propaganda.

Released in November 1941 49th Parallel was 'a concerted attempt to influence opinion in neutral America into supporting their government's entry into the war' 3 through demonstrating the shared cultural values and national interests of the British, Canadians and Americans. In this respect however the film's power to persuade was never truly tested as it was not premiered in the USA until March 1942, by which time the Americans had been involved in the Second World War for nearly four months.

At or around the time of its release in America the Lyceum cinema in Dumfries was also showing the 49th Parallel. Whether this was a re-run to capitalise on the film's American release or its first showing in the district is unclear but during what appeared to a limited showing it was seen by local resident, Mary Major Robson. Alarmed by what she had seen Robson wrote 'not in indignation, but in sorrow' 4 to her local paper, The Dumfries and Galloway Standard, to complain about the film's tone and content.

Thus began a frank exchange of views regarding both the film and its effect on national morale across several issues of the newspaper. Among these was a letter from none other than Michael Powell himself in which he stated that a key aim of the film was to 'provoke sincere discussion.' 5 Whether Powell's reply was based on prior knowledge of the Robsons' work is not known but what the readers of the Dumfries and Galloway Standard may not have realised was that by 1942 Mary Robson, and her husband, were already published authors of film criticism, as noted by Geoff Brown 'In their 1939 book The Film Answers Back, E.M. [sic] and M.M. Robson, two Presbyterian Scots of High Tory rectitude, launched the first of several extravagant onslaughts on films as engines of civilisation's decay.' 6 Underlining just how little is or was known about the Robsons and their work, both Brown and Taylor either confuse or conflate the names, nationalities, religions and political affiliations of both writers.

Born in 1901 Mary Major Robson was a farmer's daughter from Kirkbean, Dumfrieshire. Believing that his daughters, more than his sons (who were likely to become farmers), would benefit from a good education Mary's father, Joseph, sent her to a local fee paying school, Dumfries Academy. Following this Mary graduated with an MA in English and Geography from Glasgow University and subsequently moved to London where she met her future husband 'through a common interest in film'. 7

Far from being either Scottish or Presbyterian, Emanuel Walter Wurzel was Jewish and, according to the Canada to U.S. Border Crossings list from 1948, 8 was born in Krakow in 1897 (Fig.1). After moving from Poland at an early age Emanuel appears to have gained British citizenship after residing in London for some time. Despite having had no higher education he was said to have been a voracious reader particularly interested in literature, political theory and film. In order to better study the latter Emanuel and Mary purchased their own projector, allowing them to run film societies, the proceeds of which were often donated to 'charitable causes, like children orphaned by the Spanish Civil war'. 9

Where the pair's decision to settle in Dumfries may have been as a result of the bombing in London, the decision to take Mary's maiden name as their married surname was presumably a response to the likely fate of a family with a Jewish name in the event of a successful Nazi invasion of Britain. Fear of this scenario was also likely to have been compounded by the pairs. affiliation with communism, which Mary had apparently been in favour of until she had visited Moscow prior to the war. Emanuel's political affiliations, although not documented, were however sufficient to arouse the suspicion of the FBI following his emigration to Canada via New York 10 (Fig. 2).

Given Emanuel's status as a Polish émigré it would then seem natural that this, along with the Robsons. political and religious associations 'would sharpen their awareness of events in Germany and their response to them'. 11 This response would be to posit theories, which were years ahead of their contemporaries, regarding the effect European cinema had played in the build-up to the Second World War. This in particular may account for their extreme vigilance and sensitivity to any such occurrences in Britain.

Beginning with The Film Answers Back; An Historical Appreciation of the Cinema (1939) and In Defense of Moovie [sic] (1940), by April 1942 they had just published their exploration of the relationship between the typical Brit and the Russian regime Dear Joe: Letters from Bill Smith to Joseph Stalin (1942). Despite the political dimension of their latest publication the common theme running through all three books was the examination of cinema's place within society as seen through the medium's first forty years of existence, in which the Robsons conclude:

The film of today is having a widespread cultural effect upon the world's peoples, and if only we can make up our minds to advance and assist this process, the public for all other means of expression will be increased to incalculable proportions, and the world will be a better place to live in. 12
Writing nearly forty years after The Film Answers Back, John Taylor Russell's dismissive attitude towards the Robsons' 12 contribution to film criticism as being 'weird, and happily now long forgotten' should perhaps be tempered by the initial critical reception for their work. As quoted in the sleeve notes for their follow-up publication, In Defense of Moovie, The Scotsman regarded The Film Answers Back as:
"A book no serious film student should over-look. It owes nothing to any other film book, and its unconventional point of view is continually stimulating. The illustrations, plentiful and well chosen, effectively support the author's arguments." 14
Despite having no information regarding either the size of the original print run or the sales figures on its release it is still worthy of note that The Film Answers Back was reprinted 1947 and again by the New York Times during the 1970s. 15

In addition to the apparently positive response from the general press the book received on its initial release it also garnered some praise from more specialist publications. Among these was Today's Cinema who described the book as having a 'lively sense of film as social product'. 16 The two key points which emerge from both of these reviews is that firstly the book was indeed plentifully illustrated, with over forty photographs taken from films which represented all of the major American studios. Secondly, as suggested by The Scotsman's review, it investigated cinema's relationship with society like no other book at the time. With regards to the former point given the likely cost of reproducing so many images this must have represented a great deal of faith by their publishers in the end product. With respect to the latter, that The Film Answers Back was unlike any other film-book of the period, it must then be noted that some of their hypotheses were indeed ahead of their time:

Films as we have seen are the reflection of the social scene as surely as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was the reflection of the ruin that was Europe in 1919. They are, however, also projections of future trends in the social scene. Coming events cast their shadow before. 17
Here the Robsons established one of their key concerns about cinema's place in society and went on to discuss how the mood created by films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and Mäedchen In Uniform (1931) gave 'an indication of the atmosphere of intellectual Germany when Hitler was knocking at the door'. 18

This explicit link between German film of the Weimar Republic and the rise of the Third Reich was something which was to be given far more serious academic and critical credibility through Siegfried Kracauer's From Caligari to Hitler (1947). Printed in the same year as The Film Answers Back had its second run, From Caligari to Hitler was the result of a near eight year long project 19 and had been commissioned in 1939, the same year that the Robsons first published their theories. 20 The extent to which these publication dates were interrelated is unknown but the fact remains that Kracauer's findings, that 'through the medium of the German screen may help in the understanding of Hitler's ascent and ascendancy' 21 , echo those of the Robsons. Yet where the observations of the latter can be 'happily long forgotten' 22 Kracauer's theories, as David A. Cook noted, may have come and gone out of fashion but remain largely relevant:

The thesis of Kracauer's book, first published in 1947, was that Weimer cinema reflected a deep psychological conflict in the German people whose resolution led inevitably to Hitler's dictatorship. Widely accepted in the postwar era, this view was rejected by academic film historians a generation later [...] Recently, however a new appreciation of Kracauer's intellectual roots in Marxist historical materialism has led to renewed respect for his achievement. Today [...] scholars of Weimar cinema tend to depend of Kracauer even when they disagree with him. 23
That Kracauer still receives acclaim for being amongst the first to hypothesise about the effect of film on the will of an entire nation would suggest that cinema's psychological effect on its audience was a field largely under-researched by the time he published his findings. Yet in 1942, just months before their criticism of 49th Parallel, the Robsons believed they had seen just such a link:
The coming of Hitler to power in 1933 is clearly visible in the culture of pre-Nazi Germany [...] In the French cinema just before the war, the foolish romanticism, the unreal attitude to the modern methods of warfare, the pouting imbecilities and effeminacies, the perpetual obsession with sexual anarchy, sexual irresponsibility, intrigues and double-crossings for personal advantage, and the sub-conscious worship of the Fuehrer principle, were clear indications of what was about to happen to the people of France. 24
Published by Secker and Walberg, whose writers included H.G. Wells and George Orwell among others, Dear Joe... puts forward the argument that cinema's ability to influence the mood of nations was a phenomenon not exclusive to Germany, the oppressors, but applied equally to France, the oppressed. Here then was the core concern of the Robsons: that the patterns they believed they had seen forming throughout Europe in the build-up to war could, potentially, occur in Britain during the height of hostilities should poor propaganda instil in the nation's viewers a mind-set conditioning them for defeat:
Since, as we know, there is much truth in the saying "show me the book you are reading and I will tell you the kind of man you are", it is even truer to say of a nation "let me see your most prominent national films and I will tell you precisely how you will soon act". 25
To this end what Robson perceived to be the 'glorification of the adventurous prowess of a group of Nazis in Canada, tweaking the noses of the British and getting away with it' 26 was, in her opinion, likely to have a negative effect on morale.

This belief that a film such as 49th Parallel could, even unintentionally, affect viewers in this manner appeared to suggest that cinema had the capability to subliminally influence its audience, a concept which had been explored several years earlier in The Photoplay: A Psychological Study (1916). In his book psychologist Hugo Munsterberg noted of cinema that .no art form reaches a larger audience daily, no aesthetic influence finds spectators in a more receptive frame of mind'. 27

Here Munsterberg's observation, when combined with the Robsons' opinion that 'film requires the least effort on the part of the beholder to obtain a true and adequate idea of the makers of the film had at the back of their minds' 28 would appear to make cinema the perfect vehicle for propaganda. Without at least some belief in the ability of the medium to be both conveyed and understood with such ease it is unlikely then that so much time and money would have been spent in the making of propaganda films. However, the reaction of Robson to 49th Parallel would suggest that understanding what filmmakers 'had at the back of their minds' 29 had its limitations and did not extend to a film which its director described as 'propaganda at its subtlest'. 30

Powell's ambitions for 49th Parallel were to both counter the 'extremely able Nazi propaganda that had been threatening and frightening the North American continent' 31 as well as to bring 'America into the war'. 32 This was to be achieved through a 'big feature film' 33 which would initially show a 'Nazi submarine sinking vessels within sight of the American shore, pursued northward into Hudson Bay and sunk there by the Canadian Air Force'. 34 The film would then follow:

Six survivors whose one aim would be to escape westward to the Pacific and so home, or worst southward into internment in the neutral United States. One by one they would be killed or captured [...] They would look like heroes at first. Only when they started murdering, lying and thieving and coming up against the peaceful citizens of Canada would their actual nature and beliefs be revealed. 35
It was the film's portrayal of the Germans which, as Kevin Macdonald notes, received criticism from sources other than the Robsons:
The only sour note came from those who thought the film provoked too much sympathy for the enemy [...] 'The difficulty, then, of 49th Parallel', wrote the new statesman, 'is that the natural heroes of its adventures are the campaigning Nazis. The further they get and the more hardships they have to undergo, the more inclined shall we be to sympathize'. 36
This, along with the extent to which she perceived the Nazis 'held the limelight' 37 throughout the course of the film, motivated Robson's attack on 49th Parallel. Although solely authored by Mary the letters sent to the Dumfries and Galloway Standard can be seen to be representative of the anxieties expressed in the publications co-written with her husband as she raised concerns about the potentially damaging effect of seeing the Nazi salute their flag so often in what was supposed to be an Allied propaganda film:
The film starts with a salute to the flag. Which flag? Well, since the film was made with British money and with the blessing of the Ministry of Information, which flag could it be? Why the German, Nazi Swastika flag [...] on a surfaced Nazi U-boat, with Nazi crew at attention gazing upon it with reverence and adoration 'Heil Hitler', says the captain... 38
However, close analysis of the film reveals that, despite Robson's account, 49th Parallel does not in fact begin with the salute to the Swastika: the first Nazi salute does not occur until approximately twelve minutes in and at no point is a salute to the Swastika flag ever shown. The film instead begins with a series of shots (Figs. 2-4) which show bright, sunlit, panoramic views of the 'rich and unhurried' 39 Canadian landscape which Powell used to connote the unspoiled and wholesome nature of land as yet untainted by war. In what would become a running theme featured in later works of The Archers, the landscapes of Scotland and the unspoiled English countryside in I Know Where I'm Going! and A Canterbury Tale respectively, were used like the Canadian wilderness to highlight the values for which the Allies were fighting. 40 Accompanied by uplifting music from Ralph Vaughan Williams the opening montage emphasised the virtues of nature and those working with it. This theme continues even in the shot of the city scape (Fig.5) retaining a strong connection to nature through featuring the river in the centre of the frame.

The final shot of this opening montage sequence shows a wide shot of the ocean which then cuts to a similar scene immediately before the German U-boat breaks both the water surface and the tranquillity of Canada's Atlantic coast. Here the sudden appearance of the U-boat (Fig. 6) is given added emphasis with the equally sudden and dramatic change in the tone and tempo of the music. The change in Vaughan Williams. score here stresses the extent to which the Germans were an alien threat to the otherwise peaceful and serene world depicted in the opening shots. The frenetic pace at which the crew members of U 37 are then seen rushing up their ladders contrasts with the more sedate pace of the farm workers shown previously. This provides a context in which the German sailors, and by extension their ideology, are clearly unwelcome intruders, juxtaposed as they are with the beauty of nature.

The shark-like image created in the shot of the boat's bow ploughing through the water (Fig. 7) connotes a predatory element to the military invasion which will unfold and, more immediately, foreshadows the imminent attack on the Canadian supply ship which signals the beginning of the Nazi's campaign in Canada. This predatory depiction, combined with the fact that the actual torpedoing of the ship is only alluded to but not shown, has the effect of both dehumanising the Germans as well as denying them of any sense of heroism or decency.

Acting as a counterpoint to opening which depicted the natural beauty of the Canadian countryside being largely unspoiled by mechanisation, is the montage sequence which illustrates the news of the sinking being broadcast across the country. Where the earlier sequence was designed to reinforce the clean living and healthy use of traditional farming techniques, here the filmmakers seek to balance any suggestion that this approach to life could render the Canadians helpless when confronted by technologically superior Nazis. Far from showing the Canadians as being in any way technologically backward the montage illustrating the telegram's speedy progress culminates in the message being relayed to modern and sophisticated situation room (Fig.8).

This in turn gives way to a sequence depicting the might and effectiveness of the allied military with the 'whoop, whoop' played over a shot of the warship moving quickly through the water connoting a positive mind-set along with a willingness and eagerness to engage in battle.

Following this the aftermath of the ship's sinking is depicted with a wide shot showing the survivors rowing through what looks like debris. It is at this point the raising of the Nazi flag is first shown (Fig. 9). Despite the fact that this is an act of victory any notion of heroism being attached to the sinking of the boat is subverted by the survivors informing their attackers that both the captain and first mate went down with the ship. Through this the commitment to duty and bravery of the Canadian crewmen is sharply contrasted with the nature of the sneak attack mounted by the Germans.

The bravery of the captain and his first mate is then matched by the surviving second officer and the remainder of the crew who refuse to fully co-operate with the German's enquiries as to the nature of their cargo. Perhaps more pertinently the Canadian survivors also resist the Nazi's attempts to photograph their victims, presumably for propaganda purposes, by knocking the camera out of the hands of Lieutenant Kuhnecke, played by Raymond Lovell.

At this point the second officer is pushed off the submarine and as the U-Boat prepares to dive to avoid incoming RCAF bombers the action cuts to the craft's interior. However, the first shot inside the vessel opens not on any weaponry or charts but instead an image of a Nazi propaganda photograph of Adolf Hitler and a young child (Fig 10). This again serves to rob the German military of any notion of superiority and served as a reminder of the sort of propaganda the Canadian sailors have themselves managed to avoid being a part of. To this end it can be said that here the Canadians had won their first of many victories over the Nazi invaders.

Despite their plans to attack in an area of great importance to Canada's economy and heritage, Hudson Bay, U37's attempts to dodge both patrols and icebergs effectively sees its crew on the run from this point onward. The U-Boat's ingress to the Canadian interior is however spotted by an Eskimo hunter, who in turn reports his sighting to the military. The combination of the source of this intelligence being announced over the tannoy in the situation room sees two elements of Canadian life which might otherwise be expected to be mutually exclusive, the traditional and the technological, aligning to the detriment of the Germans.

As well as the aspect of teamwork here the purpose of referring to an Eskimo hunter spotting the Germans at once highlights the arrogance of the Nazis in failing to account for the preparedness of the Canadians as well as the resourcefulness of an ethnic group later described as 'lower than apes'. 41 Within the film this spotting of the U-boat sees the first use of the Inuit as an ethnic group to debunk Nazi race theory that they are in any way beneath the Germans.

This is a theme which will arise in a later scene in which a group of Eskimos, including women and children, are ruthlessly gunned down by the surviving German patrol. Like almost every group caused harm by the Germans on their way to the American border the Eskimos will fight back resulting in loss of German life. The various groups featured are intended to cover as many facets of North American society and include French and Scottish Canadians, as well as a sect of German Hutterites. All of whom further served to reinforce the ideas conveyed in the film's opening that Nazis and their ideology were antithesis to the freedom and decency of Canada and her diverse peoples.

If any doubt remained about the feelings of the Germans towards the North Americans they are dispelled as the craft prepares to anchor to allow for a boarding party to land to scavenge supplies. One crew member turned to another and, in a derisory tone, said "Canada" 42 upon which his crewmate spits into the water. This vehement demonstration of disgust in his surroundings and all it connotes with regards to freedom and goodness anticipates the boarding party's ill-fated and ultimately fruitless attempts to assert German power in a place which rejects them and their ideology.

It is at this point, eleven minutes into the film, the Nazi salute to which Mary Robson so objected actually occurs. It is, however, worth noting that at no point is the Swastika itself saluted, as by the time the gesture takes place, the flag is not in fact 'fluttering at mast height' 43 but instead has been taken down and, somewhat unceremoniously crumpled up (Fig.11), before being tossed to the boarding party. With orders to seek out food and fuel and 'destroy' 44 any opposition they encounter the boarding party are reminded that they will be the first of many thousands to set foot on Canadian soil and as such should behave like 'men and Nazis', 45 the symbol of which should be the flying flag, raised over whichever outpost they can over-run and occupy. This determination to openly occupy Canada will be juxtaposed with the lack of dignity involved in the running and hiding the surviving crew undergo throughout the rest of the film.

The actual depiction of the Nazi salute is deliberately downplayed, shown as it is via an over-the shoulder shot (Fig. 12) rather than being given the emphasis a full frontal or side-on medium shot would offer. The effect of seeing the salute of the captain to his crew when they are so far distant highlights the extent to which it is an empty gesture. The manner in which the crew are diminished in this shot and given the dimensions of toy soldiers connotes their near insignificance to the North American continent and foreshadows the struggle they will face to survive there.

Although the captain's salute is accompanied by the customary Nazi cry of 'Heil Hitler' the response of the crew cannot be heard from such a distance and by the time the camera cuts to the shot of the boarding party on the beach (Fig. 13) they are already in the process of ending their own salute and their response goes unheard. Thus the opening scenes put Mary Robson's assertion that the captain's 'Heil Hitler' is the first of many which are 'rammed down your throat' 46 throughout the course of the film into context and explains the extent to which the 'Nazis are always in the centre of the limelight'. 47

Here however it is worth noting that the above close reading was made possible through repeated viewing and enhanced by the capability of DVD technology to allow for pauses in the action, the likes of which would not have been available to Robson on her visit to Dumfries. Although the Robsons owned their own projector there is no evidence to suggest that they had access to a print of 49th Parallel. Instead Robson's letter appears to have been written based on one viewing of the film which, according to the listings in the Dumfries and Galloway Standard had a limited run from Wednesday 25th of March to Saturday the 28th 48 in only one of the town's three cinemas. These factors combined may have prevented repeated viewings for Robson. Whether this would have in itself been enough to alter the opinion of the writer is unknown. However, as the opinions expressed in Robson's initial letter reflected the impressions the film left her with it could then be argued that, as propaganda, this opening section was perhaps too subtle in its undermining of the Nazi sailors through metaphor rather than outright condemnation and humiliation at the hands of the allies.

That, for Robson, the most memorable segments were the raising of the Swastika, perhaps also demonstrates the effectiveness and potency of the flag as a symbol of the Third Reich. That this aspect has in turn been not only misrepresented in terms of duration and content, with Mary's reading actually adding detail to the ceremonial salute likewise illustrates the potential lasting impact that both the raised arm of the Nazi salute, accompanied by 'Heil Hitler', could have on the audience. This then would suggest that the concern here is for the subliminal effect on the British viewing public repeatedly hearing and seeing the Nazi salute on the cinema screen.

To this end however the letters which Dumfries and Galloway Standard received in response to Robson's initial complaint would suggest that the viewing public were in fact alert to this potentially subliminal or harmful aspect. This can be seen in the newspaper's edition dated fifteenth of April which contained three letters in regarding 49th Parallel, two of which were critical of the stance adopted by Robson, the other in support of her views.

Directly answering the question posed by Robson, 'was the film, "49th Parallel", good or bad propaganda?' 49 a reader, who signed his contribution simply as Jay Mac, assures Robson that the approach used by Powell and Pressburger had method in its execution: 'Let us not lose our sense of proportion; let us remember that all the "Heil Hitlers" and goosetepping were necessary to a true portrayal of the Nazi character, that German efficiency cannot be denied, and finally that truth triumphs over falsehood'. 50

Further supporting this was the correspondence directly below Mac's in which Edward A. Bruges takes more personal tone and states his disbelief in the conviction of the original complaint which 'has aroused not my sorrow but my indignation and I cannot believe that this letter was conceived with sincerity'. 51

Bruges then goes on to attack what he perceives as Robson's selective and narrow interpretation of the film:

If one takes the "few high-lights" as the story of the film, your correspondent has made a poor summary indeed. The film has been completely mis-represented, and the assumptions made and the conclusions arrived at are extraordinary, besides being without foundation. 52
Assuming that the letters selected for printing were representative of the total response from readers the sole message of support for Robson's opinions versus the two in opposition would imply that the views expressed by correspondent known only as J.B.B were in the minority.

Congratulating Mary Robson for her 'detailed description of scenes from "49th Parallel"' which brought out 'the real plot of the film', 53 J.B.B. expressed concern that the plot and tone of the film, with the exception of the final scene, could pass for Nazi propaganda. This, J.B.B states, could be achieved with minimal "doctoring", 54 an aside which acknowledged the work of Dr. Joseph Goebbels, the chief propagandist of the Third Reich. Further to this J.B.B, suggests that:

The artful "Herr Doktor" could suitably translate into Nazi language, "40th [sic] Parallel", [which] might be more effective than the parades of the Nazi "Health and Joy" exponents in convincing the people of the occupied countries that their overlords are supermen 55
Similar to J.B.B. Jay Mac too had the reaction of Goebbels to the film in mind when he addressed an issue that Robson had raised about the portrayal of an Englishman near the film's conclusion. Towards the end of the film the most committed and ruthless members of the surviving Nazis, Lieutenant Hirth, played by Eric Portman, and Lohrman, played by John Chandos, are the last remaining crew members of U 37 still at large. Having escaped the mounted police the pair are rescued by Englishman and author Philip Armstrong Scott (Leslie Howard) a character Robson feared could have played "right into the hands of Dr. Goebbels with almost every word he utters". 56 Howard's characterisation, described by J.B.B. as 'supine', 57 completely contrasts with the Nazi view of manliness, camping as he is in relative luxury in the peace and safety of the Canadian Rockies. The credibility of this already unlikely scenario is further stretched by him displaying what appear to be Picasso and Matisse originals which Scott claims he cannot bear to be parted from, even when 'pigging it' 58 in the Canadian wilds. Where the beginning of the film could be seen to have contained subtlety this scene abandons it entirely as Howard portrays a caricature of the antithesis to the Nazi ideal with his personal motto, "wars may come and wars may go but art goes on forever". 59

Beaten, robbed and tied up in his own tent, Scott's predicament is one which Robson sees as symptomatic of the ineffective allied response to the Nazi threat to Canada. Although perhaps not the typical representation of the British at war film goers might be more accustomed to, Scott nevertheless escapes and tackles, single-handedly and unarmed, Lohrman who manages to shoot the Englishman several times before succumbing to the writer's attack. The viciousness of the beating Scott administers in turn punctuates the epiphany he has regarding his contribution to the war effort.

In addition to this the victory of an effete, unarmed Englishman over an armed Nazi sailor was not lost on Jay Mac who sought to refresh Robson's memory of the incident:

Do you remember his words? Let me refresh your memory, dear lady. "One unarmed member of a decadent race overcomes an armed German superman. I wonder how Dr Goebbels would explain that." Does that not portray something of the fibre of the British race? Is that not propaganda worthy of the name? 60
By placing the German soldiers at the centre of the film Robson feared for the psychological effect this could have on both the British audience, yet if the letters in response to the criticism of 49th Parallel were representative of the general views of the public at large then it would appear that those fears were unfounded. The awareness of propaganda on both sides of the debate also suggested that people generally understood the nature of the medium.

In spite of Mary Robson's reaction to what she perceived as the negative implications of the film, 49th Parallel enjoyed success on both sides of the Atlantic and raised an estimated 2million for the British Treasury. 61 In addition to its commercial success it was also critically well received and, retitled The Invaders, earned Emeric Pressburger his first Academy Award. 62 Dismissed as 'unhinged' 63 and 'crack-pot' 64 the work and opinions of Emanuel and Mary Robson are little heard of today. However, their view that films could have an influence over their audience at a national level would seem substantiated by the number of propaganda films which were generated on both sides: an undertaking which went ahead despite the fact that the psychological impact of cinema was, in the 1940s, not yet fully understood. In this respect, if the Robsons genuinely believed that the films of Powell and Pressburger represented any sort of danger to public morale during the midst of war it could be argued that they were in fact duty-bound to speak out. To this end their criticism of 49th Parallel and its approach to propaganda might then be said to have been entirely justified.


References:

  1. John Russell Taylor, 'Myths and Supermen', Sight and Sound (Autumn 1978) Available at: http://www.powell-pressburger.org/Reviews/Micky/Supermen.html [accessed 30 November 2012] (para. 1 of 20)
  2. Kevin Macdonald, Emeric Pressburger: The Life and Death of a Screenwriter (London: Faber and Faber, 1994), p.180
  3. Mark Duguid, '49th Parallel', BFI ScreenOnline, (n.d.) Available at:i http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/id/438312/index.html [accessed 30 November 2012] (para. 1 of 6)
  4. Mary M Robson, '49th Parallel', Dumfries and Galloway Standard, 8 April1942, Letters to the Editor, p.5
  5. Michael Powell, '49th Parallel', Dumfries and Galloway Standard, 29 April 1942, Letters to the Editor, p.5
  6. Geoff Brown, 'Criticism: The 1930s: Theory and Debate', BFI Screenonline (n.d.) Available at: http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/criticism/criticism8.html [accessed 30 November 2012] (para. 3 of 7)
  7. Elizabeth Taylor, EW and MM Robson [e-mail] (Personal communication, 7 November 2012) (para.1 of 4)
  8. Border Crossings: From Canada to U.S., 1895-1954, a
  9. Taylor, EW and MM Robson, (para.1 of 4)
  10. U.S. Subject Index to Correspondence and Case Files of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1903-1959, "Emanuel Walter Wurzel", Communists (n.d.) Available at: search.ancestry.com
  11. Gabrielle Harrington, EW and MM Robson, [e-mail] (Personal communication, 31 October 2012) (para. 3 of 4)
  12. EW and MM Robson, The Film Answers Back: An Historical Appreciation of the Cinema (London: John Lane the Bodely Head, 1939), p.331
  13. Taylor, (para. 1 of 20)
  14. EW and MM Robson, In Defense of Moovie (Edinburgh: HJ Pillans and Wilson, 1940), sleeve notes
  15. Elizabeth Taylor, EW and MM Robson [e-mail] (Personal communication, 31 October 2012) (para. 1 of 4)
  16. EW and MM Robson, In Defense of Moovie, sleeve notes
  17. EW and MM Robson, The Film Answers Back, p. 169
  18. Ibid. p.170
  19. Siegrfried Kracauer, From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film, edited and introduced by Leonardo Quaresima, Rev. and expanded ed. (Princeton university press, Princeton, 2004), p.xix
  20. Kracauer, p.xix
  21. Ibid., p.11
  22. Taylor, (para. 2 of 20)
  23. David A Cook, A History of Narrative Film, (New York: WW Norton & Company, 2004), p.111
  24. EW and MM Robson, Dear Joe: Letters from Bill Smith to Joseph Stalin (London: Martin Secker and Warburg Ltd., 1942), pp.74-75
  25. Ibid., p.84
  26. Mary M Robson, '49th Parallel'
  27. Hugo Munsterberg, The Photoplay: A Psychological Study, (New York: Plany, 1916), [Kindle for PC version] location no. 1948. Available at: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/15383 [accessed 30 November 2012]
  28. EW and MM Robson, Dear Joe: Letters from Bill Smith to Joseph Stalin, p.74
  29. Ibid., p.25
  30. Michael Powell, A Life in Movies (London: Faber and Faber, 1986), p.350
  31. Ibid., p.350
  32. Ibid., p.350
  33. Ibid., p.350
  34. Ibid., p.350
  35. Ibid., p.350
  36. Macdonald, p.180
  37. Mary M. Robson, '49th Parallel', Dumfries and Galloway Standard, 8 April 1942, Letters to the Editor, p.5
  38. Ibid., p.5
  39. Powell, p.349
  40. Macdonald, p.233
  41. 49th Parallel, dir. by Michael Powell (Ortus Films and Ministry of Information, 1941)
  42. 49th Parallel, dir. by Michael Powell (Ortus Films and Ministry of Information, 1941)
  43. Mary M. Robson, p.5
  44. 49th Parallel
  45. Ibid.
  46. Mary M. Robson, p.5
  47. Ibid., p.5
  48. 'Cinema Listings', Dumfries and Galloway Standard, 21 and 28 March 1942, p.8
  49. Jay Mac, '49th Parallel', Dumfries and Galloway Standard, 15 April 1942, Letters to the Editor, p.5
  50. Ibid., p.5
  51. Edward A. Bruges, '49th Parallel', Dumfries and Galloway Standard, 15 April 1942, Letters to the Editor, p.5
  52. Ibid., p.5
  53. J.B.B., '49th Parallel', Dumfries and Galloway Standard, 15 April 1942, Letters to the Editor, p.5
  54. Ibid., p.5
  55. Ibid., p.5
  56. Mary M. Robson, p.5
  57. J.B.B., p.5
  58. 49th Parallel
  59. 49th Parallel
  60. Jay Mac, p.5
  61. Powell Pressburger and Others, ed. by Ian Christie (London: British Film Institute, 1978), p.29
  62. Macdonald, p.203
  63. Powell & Pressburger, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp ed. by Ian Christie (London: Faber and Faber, 1994), p. xv
  64. Macdonald, p.229


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