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Germans in Canada
49th Parallel

49th Parallel
by Michael Powell 1942
Leslie Howard, Laurence Olivier, Richard George

In the early years of World War II, a German U-boat (U-37) sinks Allied shipping in St. Lawrence Bay and then tries to evade Canadian Military Forces seeking to destroy it by sailing up to Hudson Bay. The U-boat's Fanatical Nazi captain sends some members of his crew to look for food and other supplies at a Hudson Bay Company outpost. No sooner than the shore party (lead by Lieutenant Hirth) reaches the shore, the U-boat is spotted and sunk by the Canadian Armed Forces leaving the six members of the shore party stranded in Canada. The Nazi Lieutenant then starts to plan his crews' return to the Fatherland. He needs to reach the neutral United States or be captured. Along the way they meet a variety of characters each with their own views on the war and nationalism.
Run Time: 2:01:43


Basically a thriller, where the survivors of a sunken German U-boat try to get out of Canada, first by going west towards Japan and then south to the neutral United States. But a larger theme predominates: the simple decency of everybody they encounter in Canada compared with their own single-minded ruthlessness.

This does not just involve the savagery of armed men against innocent civilians, who they beat, rob and kill, but the merciless logic of the Nazi ideology spouted by their leader, Lieutenant Hirth, played brilliantly by Eric Portman. By contrast, one of the sailors is a “good German”, plain and kindly like most of the people they meet, but his colleagues execute him for wanting to desert.

Beautifully shot in black and white, with endless lovely scenes of the Canadian outdoors. Very short of women, though, apart from a cameo for Glynis Johns as a refugee from Europe who has lost her family to Nazi brutality.

Opinions differ about Laurence Olivier as a French-Canadian trapper, one of the Nazis’ victims, whose playing could be considered over the top. But few will fail to be impressed by Anton Walbrook as the pacific German head of a religious community or by Leslie Howard as a gentle scholarly anthropologist. And Raymond Massey wraps the story up nicely by giving the resourceful but vicious Hirth the treatment he deserves.

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