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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Assignment in Brittany ( 1943 )

"Every second throbs with suspense and danger!" 

For once, those exclamatory theatrical heralds were right: Assignment in Brittany is packed to the brim with non-stop adventure. There is so much fast-paced excitement that if you do not have your ears peeled, you may lose some of the plot line. 

French heart-throb Jean-Pierre Aumont plays Pierre Matard, a captain in the Free French forces, who is sent to a small village in France disguised as Bertrand Corlay ( also Aumont ), a suspected Nazi collaborator. Since Pierre bears such a striking resemblance to this man, his task is to weasel out information about the location of a U-Boat base that the British believe is in the vicinity. For the audiences benefit, he accomplishes this mission in one and one-half hours filled with exciting moments of danger. 

Of course, all good resistance fighters end up falling in love on their missions and, in this case, Captain Pierre falls for the fiancee of his look-a-like Bertrand: Anne Pinot ( portrayed by the lovely Susan Peters ). 

Director Jack Conway was a veteran of silent films and numerous MGM "A" pictures ( A Tale of Two Cities, Libeled Lady, Boom Town, The Hucksters ). He was an excellent director and was capable of handling comedies, dramas, and action films with equal ease. Unfortunately, this was the only war/espionage film that he directed. The final scene of the destruction of the U-boat base is especially well-filmed and really caps off the picture with a bang. 

Like many films that were made in the midst of the war, the brutality of war is not softened to appeal to audience tastes. In one scene, many of the friends that Aumont's character comes to know are executed in front of his eyes. The Nazis are portrayed as the fiendish brutes that they were.

Assignment in Brittany ( 1943 ) marked the debut of Jean-Pierre Aumont, who had arrived in Hollywood just a year earlier and could barely speak English. It was stage actress Katharine Cornell who discovered the handsome Jean Gabin-esque actor and cast him in her play "Rose Burke". Shortly after he was signed to an MGM contract and made this film and another war drama, The Cross of Lorraine, that same year. Aumont himself had earned the Legion of Honor and Croix de Guerre medals for his service in North Africa with the Free French Forces from 1939-1940. While in Hollywood, he helped raise funds for the Resistance and returned to fight in 1944.  

Also making her American debut was Swedish actress Signe Hasso. She made a number of excellent war films, usually playing a heroine but, in this film, she is quite the vixen.

Like most MGM pictures, the production values on Assignment in Brittany are top-notch with great sets by Cedric Gibbons and Edwin Willis, costumes by Gile Steele, music by Lennie Hayton, and excellent cinematography by Charles Rosher ( Annie Get Your Gun ). The script to the film was based on a Helen MacInnes novel that was serialized in 1942 in "The Saturday Evening Post". MacInnes was a prolific author of espionage novels and, in 1943, MGM had turned another one of her books into a box-office hit - Above Suspicion
Assignment in Brittany has the usual elements that you would hope to find in an espionage film: suspicious double-face characters, secret codes, danger behind every corner, plenty of Gestapo agents, and the classic escape-in-disguise ( this time taking place within a church in France ).

The movie also boasts a strong supporting cast of MGM stock actors such as Margaret Wycherly, Richard Whorf, Reginald Owen, Alan Napier, Miles Mander, and John Emery. A young Darryl Hickman is given a meaty role as a little French freedom fighter. 

3 comments:

  1. I have seen The Cross of Lorraine, but I don't believe I have ever heard of Assignment in Brittany! It sounds like a movie that I must see.

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    1. It's been released through Warner Archives DVD and they did an excellent transfer. I haven't seen "The Cross of Lorraine" so I will be checking that one out next.

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  2. An espionage film with a plot involving lookalikes? Yes, you can count me in! Plus, as you noted, Jack Conway was a fine director capable of working in multiple genres.

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