Three wartime ’pilgrims' find themselves near Canterbury, and try to solve the mystery of the ’phantom glueman' who is attacking girls at night. Their inquiries lead them to suspect the local magistrate, a staunch advocate of traditional values. As they converge on Canterbury, all receive unexpected ’blessings', which point toward their postwar futures, and the glueman's unmasking is forgotten amid celebrations on the eve of D-Day.
With A Canterbury Tale (1944), Powell and Pressburger began to look beyond the now foreseeable end of the war. The result perplexed even the film's relatively few admirers, and it was, like Blimp, soon cut to make it more conventionally acceptable. In its original version, the film opens with a brief evocation of Chaucer's pilgrims journeying to Canterbury, which is magically connected with the present when the image of a bird becomes that of a fighter, an early anticipation, as its new admirers have noted, of the bone that becomes a spaceship in Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). We are to see the servicemen as unsuspecting latter-day pilgrims, stranded in wartime limbo, needing something to make sense of their lives.
Ian Christie (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger: Arrows of Desire)