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Contemporary Article
49th Parallel (1941)
Picture Post, October 4th, 1941

The Film There Was All The Fuss About

At last "49th Parallel", the film we have been hearing about for eighteen months, is finished. Really finished, and ready for showing. We shall be seeing it at the Odeon, Leicester Square, London, on October 6.

It is the film the Ministry of Information have backed to the extent of 25,000. They have given many facilities to help on its production, even ferrying 20,000 feet of film across the Atlantic by bomber.

It was as long ago as the summer of last year when it was announced that a group of famous actors and actresses were leaving these shores for Canada, where the film was to be made. That was in the early days [of the war], when anyone who left Britain for any reason was looked on with suspicion. Public interest was at once aroused.

It became lively when it was known that Elisabeth Bergner was one of the stars. She had just become a British citizen; it was her war work to act in a propaganda film on behalf of the Allied cause. Then there was a hitch. After the cast had arrived in Canada, Miss Bergner announced she was not going through with it. The part was not suitable. She wanted her husband to direct her. Her ears were bad, she could not stand flying back to England to finish the film, so she had gone to Hollywood.

By this time, the film was news indeed. Between blitzes and Roosevelt's speeches, it began to stand out in two-column headings in the national press. One writer was moved to write a whole article castigating "alien stars" who acquired British citizenship and then retired to the United States or Canada. Who could replace Bergner? There were few likely candidates. So the company postponed the decision, completed their location shots across Canada and in the Arctic, and returned to Britain.

Then came the startling piece of film news. Bergner's part would be played by a young girl, Glynis Johns, aged 17, who played the young bridesmaid in Esther Macracken's West End comedy, Quiet Wedding.

So, at last, the film went on the set at Denham. The cast is impressive, and includes Leslie Howard, Raymond Massey, Laurence Olivier, Anton Walbrook, Nial McGinnis, Charles Victor and Glynis Johns [Note: No mention of Eric Portman, not even in the picture captions and he's in almost every picture]. They are directed by Michael Powell. And the London Symphony Orchestra plays music specially written by Vaughan Williams.

Nor is this all. The prologue and epilogue [epilogue?] are spoken by Mr. Vincent Massey, High Commissioner for Canada [and Ray's brother]. "I see a long straight line athwart a continent," says Mr. Massey, "no chain of forts of deep flowing river or mountain range, but a line drawn by men upon a map nearly a century ago, accepted with a handshake and kept ever since. A boundary which divides two nations, yet marks their friendly meeting ground - the 49th Parallel - the only undefended frontier in the world." [Apart from the ones between England and Scotland, England and Wales and various others] Thus begins the story of six Nazis in Canada, who are 'exterminated' by the joint actions of Canada and the United States.

The pictures (and their captions) are equally interesting. They don't mention Hirth's being shot by the Nazis at the Hutterite settlement, they have two killed in the Armstrong Scott segment.

They also show a picture from the scene on the train which I've never seen. Andy Brock (Ray Massey) was riding in the passenger compartment when a Military Policeman boards the train. Of course Andy Brock doesn't want to have to talk to the M.P. so makes his way to the baggage car where he meets Hirth (Eric Portman). I don't know if Hirth was always in the baggage car (I suspect so from their initial exchange) or if Hirth was in the passenger compartment as well and mistook the M.P for a regular policeman.

So that's another scene that looks like it was cut from the final version along with the scene in the plane that helped them get across Canada so quickly. The Picture Show article mentions two actresses playing air hostesses who were trained by Trans-Canada Airways for the flight (in both senses of the word) across Canada.

And what about that epilogue that this Picture Post article mentions Vincent Massey doing?

Did any of those ever make it to a version of the film that was shown anywhere? Do they still exist in a vault somewhere?

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