A taut, cautionary wartime short, very much along the lines of Chuck Jones' Private Snafu cartoons. Alfred Hitchcock described it as "a little story about an RAF man escorted out of France through Resistance channels"; elements past (The Lady Vanishes) and future (Stage Fright) figure in, the progression -- a conscience's necessary darkening -- is out of Shadow of a Doubt. A callow Scottish pilot (John Blythe) has escaped from a German prisoner camp and made it through occupied France: His debriefing back home allows for a pair of tales, structured as the presentation of surfaces and their deconstruction. The young sergeant's flashback recalls a daring escape pulled off "like clockwork," a series of close calls helped by a valiant Polish agent. The French officer at the bureau has a different version, in which the comrade is a Gestapo spy and the pilot is an unwitting pawn in a Nazi scheme to puncture the Resistance's circles. How can he know all this? "Intelligence" is the repeated answer. The British Ministry of Information wanted clear-cut propaganda and morale-boosting, and yet made the mistake of hiring artists for the job -- Powell and Pressburger in The 49th Parallel and One of Our Aircraft Is Missing connect rather than divide the humanity of ally and enemy, Hitchcock complicates the reductive mission by challenging the very acts of seeing and storytelling. Twenty-five minutes of systematic severities and aperçus, filmed on the fly with the utmost fluency: Hitchcock breezes through and shows his hand in the heroine's death (a tragic close-up becomes a cruel medium-shot as the traitor collects her book of contacts and, after a moment's consideration, her wristwatch), the finale includes a bow to civilian casualties, who deserve their own monument under the Arc de Triomphe. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce