Writer Emeric Pressburger
Directed by Michael Powell
is a comedy thriller in the vein of Hitchcock's The Thirty-Nine Steps
and The Lady Vanishes
. The film is an early treasure from the writer-director team of Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell (The Red Shoes, Stairway To Heaven),
who have been hailed by critics as jewels in the crown of British cinema.
Set in England during the early days of WW II, Contraband
stars Conrad Veidt (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari)
and Valerie Hobson (The Bride of Frankenstein)
as a Danish sea captain and his enigmatic passenger who are kidnapped by a cell of Nazi spies operating from a basement in London's Soho. In evocatively Hitchcockian fashion, the plot progresses as a chase that puts the characters in one peculiar set of surroundings after another. What makes Contraband
unique is that most of the story takes place under blackout conditions (original U.S. release title was Blackout
), in which the great city becomes a mysterious dark labyrinth, a potent metaphor for the English population's general confusion at the start of the war. Moreover, the blackout provides director Powell a constant opportunity to pay subtle homage to Veidt's Germanic, expressionist heritage with chiaroscuro lighting and visual allusions to his classic films.
The masterly black and white cinematography is the work of celebrated cameraman Freddie Young, three-time Oscar winner for Lawrence Of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago,
and Ryan's Daughter.
This Kino on Video version of Contraband
is eight minutes longer than the version originally released theatrically in the U.S.
"Conrad Veidt behaves with marvelous elan." - Bosley Crowther, The New York Times