Went The Day Well?: Blu-ray

Monday, 25 July 2011 12:33

The balance between news, entertainment and propaganda is always a fine one.  This becomes more blurred in times of war.  We live in a society where the boundary between war and peace has now been removed. Our governments tell us, categorically, that we are involved in a ‘war on terror’.  But no, they say, we are not at war. By definition, the current ‘war’ is against unseen and uncategorized enemies; they could be anywhere.  In essence, we are in a WORLD war. One that is different to all those that have gone before: how can our enemies surrender and the war then be declared over?

Under this cloud, witness the release on Blu-ray of “Went the Day Well?” – made in 1942, it is told in flashback, the prologue defining the tale as being relayed sometime in the future, when the Nazi menace has been repelled. Ordinary citizens play their part in putting paid to the nefarious onslaught of fascist forces, the needs of freedom seeing for many a necessary sacrifice to repel the odious invaders.

Went the Day Well? comes to Blu-rayThe film’s style is deceptive – initially it comes across as your regular homely tale of village life in the middle of the last century. Everyone is cheerful, the landscape is perfect, and life, although regimented, is laced with freedom. The worst crime that can be expected is some poaching on private property, and even then we are on the side of the chirpy poacher rather than the ‘long arm of the law’.

Into this idyllic setting, disguised German paratroopers are quite literally dropped into the story.  Pretending they are a platoon of British soldiers on a training exercise, their real mission is to set up an advance bridgehead for a planned invasion. Many of their accents are perfect, and they have infiltrators on their side, showing that the greatest threat comes from the enemy within.  However, some of the villagers have their wits about them, and parts of their story, and their actions, just do not ring true.

With the Blu-ray restoration, I had to keep checking and double checking that this film was almost seventy years old. The acts of heroism are dramatic, and the violence, whilst mostly implied and off-camera, is gruesome – wartime audiences would have been in no doubt that the stakes were high if the scenario being played out ever became a reality.

The initial idea for the movie came from the Graham Greene short story “The Lieutenant Died Last”, although the adaption veered a long way away from its source material. This movie marked the first screen appearance of Thora Hird, playing Ivy Dawking, a Land Army girl. Fellow comedy stalwart Patricia Hayes (Min Reed in Till Death Us Do Part) also had an early role, as Daisy the Shop Clerk.

Fans of Z Cars should watch out for John Slater as a German Sergeant – John went on to play Det Sgt Stone for 420 episodes of the BBC crime drama. Also watch out for an exceedingly young Harry Fowler, playing George Truscott, hero of the hour. He achieved TV fame as ‘Flogger’ Hoskins in The Army Game, whilst Doctor Who fans will tell you how he played the role of Harry in the McCoy era “Remembrance of the Daleks”.

Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, and produced by Michael Balcon, various reviews have commented that the danger of invasion was past its peak by the time the film made its original debut. However, there were still around two and a half years to go from its December 1942 release to the surrender of the Nazis, which was still plenty of time for the possibility of invasion to again raise its head.  It’s not all over until it’s over.

These days, the film is categorised as ‘propaganda’. Such a term always suggests that government or elite classes were involved in setting up the project, getting it made and out to the masses. There is no evidence of this, but certainly the result of the movie must surely have been to make people stay on the alert, to check out the stories of strangers who came into their vicinity, and to be conscientious in following up on happenings that did not ring true.

It will be interesting in years to come, when the dust on the ‘war on terror’ has settled, and the truth has come out, to see which films from our era will be categorised as ‘unofficial propaganda’.  Establishing a mood within the population. Hiding the truth in plain sight. Preparing society for big things that are going to crash in to us all, just around the next corner.

All in all, “Went the Day Well” is a surprisingly effective and disturbing piece of cinema. It presses all the buttons of patriotism which it set out to, and noble sacrifice is at every turn. It represents a time when the enemy was tangible, and represented something concrete. It would be incredibly difficult to do a movie to act as similar propaganda in today’s climate, where we don’t really know what the alleged ‘enemy’ is trying to achieve, as they have nowhere to point to as being the model for the society they wish to create (if indeed that is a goal of theirs).

That’s why this is a movie which reminds us of when times were a lot simpler - where the enemy goose-stepped, and stood tall under its Swastika banners. As Eddie Izzard is always keen to point out, if you haven’t got a flag, no-one really knows what you stand for. This is almost Dad's Army if Quentin Tarrentino was directing.

The DVD and Blu-ray extras on the release are:

  • BBC Radio 3 “The Essay - British Cinema of the 1940s” audio featurette
  • Cavalcanti short film “Yellow Caesar”

“Went the Day Well?” is released in its original aspect ratio of 1:37:1 with mono 2.0 sound. It was restored using the original picture and sound negatives, both physically cleaned and printed to create new 35mm film masters. The picture was then digitally restored, removing dirt, scratches, warps, torn or replacing torn or missing frames, and improving stability issues.

“Went The Day Well?” is out now on the Optimum Classic label on both Blu-ray and DVD. It has a ‘PG’ certificate, a running time of 93 minutes approx in glorious monochrome, and has RRPs of £19.99 (Blu-ray) and £15.99 (DVD) – or get either format for less at www.culttvstore.com

 

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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