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The Washington Post (23/Jul/1993) - Hitchcock's Resistance



Hitchcock's Resistance

FOR AFICIONADOS of Alfred Hitchcock, and for of classic cinema, the resurfacing of "Bon Voyage" and "Aventure Malgache" are exciting findings. Made between his 1943 "Lifeboat" and 1945 "Spellbound," these wartime shorts — filmed by a graduate of the psychologically murky German expressionist era — display the British filmmaker's adroit manipulation of suspense and his dark sense of irony.

Yet the story behind these movies is at least as interesting. Originally made as propaganda material for the British Ministry of Information in 1944, the short espionage thrillers (made in French with French actors and technicians) wore intended as tributes to the Free French Movement

But the various French factions the films were supposed to serve bickered over creative details. Eventually, the films were deemed too Inflammatory and shelved until last year.

The 26-minute "Bon Voyage," made in 1944, is the superior of the two, a deft little twisteroo about wartime treachery. A Scottish Royal Air Force pilot (John Blythe) has successfully escaped German-occupied France with the help of a Polish officer and the French Resistance Interviewed upon his return to Britain by a French espionage officer, he's asked to relate his escape.

The pilot's flashback story follows, in which he and bis Polish companion make it through France with the help of the Resistance. But when a Resistance fighter informs them that only one can be taken aboard a getaway plane, the companions throw dice for the right to escape. The Scot wins. When his story "is over, the pilot hears from the French officer what really happned during that escape. "Bon Voyage" then takes us back through the same story, "Rashomon"-style, with a markedly different version of the events.

"Aventure Malgache" (aka "Madagascar Landing"), a 31-minute piece made in the same year, revels in even murkier human activity. The outbreak of war and the surrender of France under Petain forces the French community in Madagascar to break up into political factions—some for fighting the Nazis, others for giving in.

In another flashback scenario, an exiled French Resistance fighter (how performing agitprop plays in England) recalls his recent times as a lawyer on the African island, where he was imprisoned by the Petain-supportive French police chief for operating an underground railway.

At this point, Hitchcock was intentionally ribbing the real-life French infighting over these films. "Malgache," even more so than "Bon Voyage," was too satirically close to the made, it seems. No wonder they waited 50 years.

Both movies are shown with "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" ("La Riviere du Hibou"), Robert Enrico's 1962 adaptation of the Ambrose Bierce short story. In the 27-minute movie, a POW in the American Civil War is condemned to death by hanging, his neck tied to a noose suspended from a bridge. But at the moment of fatal impact, something unexpected happens. The prisoner suddenly finds himself swimming for freedom, bullets at his back.

In a memorably surrealistic amalgam of fantasy and time elasticity, Enrico shows us the pre-"Twilight Zone" outcome of this escape attempt.