Friday, January 1, 2021

Brit Month Begins

One of Our Aircraft is Missing

Happy New Year! 

I don’t believe we at Movie Churches have ever been so happy to say that, but there it is. Many of us are hoping we can do some things we weren't able to do last year, like going to the movies. And, like, well, traveling. So we're going to start this year off right by traveling to Merry Ol' England: films with British locations, actors, and filmmakers.

It's hard to name more acclaimed British filmmakers than the directing team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. There were other great British filmmakers, of course: Alfred Hitchcock, David Lean, and Carol Reed. But all of those filmmakers eventually made films with Hollywood. 

Not Powell and Pressburger. They made films for their English studio, The Archers, and never “went Hollywood.” 

The first film the two men directed together was One of Our Aircraft is Missing. It was made in midst of the Second World War, and it is, in many ways, a propaganda film. But it's a well-done propaganda film that tells the story of a Royal Air Force (RAF) bomber crew forced to abandon their plane in German-occupied Netherlands. They must somehow make their way home to Britain.

The crew --  Rear Gunner Sir George (Godfrey Tearle), Co-Pilot Tom (Eric Portman), Observer Frank (Hugh Williams), Gunner Geoff (Bernard Miles), Pilot John (Hugh Burden), and Radio Operator Bob (Emrys Jones) -- must depend on the Dutch for help, and (fortunately for this blog), some of that help is found in a church. The crew puts civilian clothes over their uniforms (risking being executed as spies), and one even dresses as a woman.

They go to a Catholic Church and are unable to join in the hymn singing, it being in Dutch and all. During the service, they whisper with some of the resistance fighters and learn that the Germans have discovered one of their parachutes. The Germans are looking for them. The priest preaches, but it was in Dutch as well, so I can’t comment on the accuracy of his exegesis. There is some Latin as well. (It’s not Greek to me, because I actually know a tiny bit of Greek.) 

After the sermon, German soldiers break into the service. The organist begins to play the national anthem of the Netherlands. The soldiers don’t recognize the British crewmen, so they leave, and the congregation then joins the organist singing the anthem.

The crew joins a family and their friends for dinner in a home after the service. The priest, standing by the table, says grace in Latin before people dig in, but a traitor, a Quisling, enters the room and recognizes the British crewmen. (The term “Quisling” comes from Vidkun Quisling the Norwegian military leader who collaborated with the Nazis and headed the government of Norway during WWII.)

The men block the traitor’s exit with guns, but he says they wouldn’t dare fire the guns and attract the attention of the Germans. Suddenly, they hear the Dutch national anthem coming from the German headquarters. It turns out that the Germans had asked the Quisling to send them phonograph records. He in turn had asked a boy to select the records to be sent, and the boy had put recordings of the National Anthem in the jackets of other records. Though the boy had made the switch, the traitor would be blamed by the Germans.  

The traitor is caught between the resistance and the soldiers. He turns to the priest, bowing to him and crying, “Father! Help me! Tell me what to do. [The Germans will] be after me if they don’t find me at home!”

The priest responds, “Evidently, you know your friends. You don’t think they’ll believe you if you tell them the truth, do you?”

The traitor answers, “They believe everyone in Holland wants to kill them. They will shoot first and ask questions afterward. You are a servant of God! You can’t let them kill me!”

The priest tells him, “You expect God to help you escape, but I think you were meant to fall into our hands.”

During a war, Christians -- and especially clergy members --  are always challenged whether their loyalty should be primarily to God or to country. This priest certainly sees no conflict between his ministry and working for the Resistance, but it does seem he could have urged the traitor to turn to God.

Oh, I should note that the Dutch priest is not played by an actor from the Netherlands. It was an early role for the quite English Peter Ustinov. He would go on to be a star in Britain and in the States, eventually winning two Oscars for Best Supporting Actor. But his priest in this movie earns the Movie Church honor of Three out of Four Steeples.

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