The Spy in Black

Captain Hardt with gun in hand

Known in the USA as U-Boat 29, The Spy in Black is the better and the original title of the first film made by the powerhouse pairing of director Michael Powell and writer Emeric Pressburger. If that was all it had to offer it would be worth a look. But it is also a tight and thrilling spy caper bubbling with a typical Powell and Pressburger humanity. It was made when the Second World War looked obvious and opened in the UK in 1939 as war was breaking out. Its star is Berlin-born Nazi-hating Conrad Veidt, who plays Ernst Hardt, a German U-Boat captain who arrives under cover of the night on a … Read more

The Small Back Room

Kathleen Byron and David Farrar with heads together

So how do you follow a grand Technicolor extravaganza like The Red Shoes? With The Small Back Room, if you’re Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. A war movie set in 1943, even its title is telling us that this isn’t more of the same. And it really isn’t. A mid-grey hodgepodge in which nothing quite locks into place, deliberately, it’s almost experimental in its approach. Does this 1949 movie work? Depends what you mean. The film was called Hour of Glory in the US, which makes sense, kind of, by the time you’ve got to the end of the film but none whatsoever for the majority of it, since it’s a story of … Read more

The Boy Who Turned Yellow

John turns yellow

The Boy Who Turned Yellow is interesting for all sorts of reasons. Released in 1972, it was the final film of both director Michael Powell and screenwriter Emeric Pressburger, the powerhouse duo who’d been responsible for some of the UK’s most innovative, technically brilliant, thematically complex and entertaining films. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes are probably the biggest successes in a partnership that lasted from 1939’s The Spy in Black (“the most exciting spy melodrama since the advent of the Second World War,” opined the New York Times) to 1957’s Ill Met by Moonlight aka Night Ambush (Powell himself … Read more

A Matter of Life and Death

Marius Goring in A Matter of Life and Death

A movie for every day of the year – a good one 29 December UK pays off Second World War debt, 2006 On this day in 2006, the last working day of the year, the British Government made the last of 50 payments to the US and Canada, money it had borrowed off them in 1945 at the end of the war, when the British economist John Maynard Keynes had been dispatched to Washington with the begging bowl. With the national debt standing at 180% of gross domestic product, the government had expected, or hoped for, a grant. Instead it was offered a loan, on terms of 2% interest annually, a rate that … Read more