Set in the early days of World War II, 49th Parallel is the story of a German uboat crippled and stranded off the coast of northern Canada. If the Germans reach the 49th parallel (the official US-Canada boarder) they will be in neutral territory. Once their uboat is bombed, the remaining men must travel on foot along the tundra coast. Along the way, they meet a variety of people, all living peacefully in their different ways. Some are hostile against the Germans, others turn the other cheek and can find some good in a few of them.
Now, when this first appeared in theaters, some critics believed that the film was too sympathetic towards the Nazis. I’m all for kicking Nazi ass, but 49th Parallel is about human spirit and different ideas on life, not just kill the Nazis. They’re already in a pickle anyway, lost in a huge foreign country against millions of Canadians. The Nazi ideal is to be ruthless and bloodthirsty, Canadians are much more peaceful and laid back, eh? They realize that six Nazis scurrying around like rats will cause some comotion, but it’s not worth lowering themselves to their savage level.
I got kinda excited when the opening credits listed Lawrence Oliver towards the top (since beginning this project I’ve become quite a fan.) The truth is, he only has a little screen time, as a French Canadian trapper with a funny mustache. It’s a good enough part as Johnny, he’s full of life and energy and even has the gull to ask the Germans, “Do you really walk around Berlin like this?” with the typical funny Nazi marching. But his part is disappointingly short as the Germans must keep moving. C’est la vie.
One of the most interesting groups of people the Germans stumble upon is a community of Christians. At first, they just meet Anna, nearly sixteen years old, who thinks they’re seasonal workers looking for work. The Germans are amazed that everyone in the community lives in peace doing what they want to do (not assigned to do) and don’t collect any money from it. Some question it so much, that they actually try to convert the community to Nazism, harping and barking a blood cult just walked into a nun’s club. The leader of the community tells the Germans off in such a powerful, yet quiet speech, it sends the Germans to even more suspicion.
There are a few things you can categorize this film as: Nazi’s on the run, the wide world of Canada, Lawrence Oliver as a French tease. The whole film is entertaining enough, and the ending is not one I expected. Anyway, if you like early WWII films, Nazis, Canada or just want a little kick from Oliver with a French accent and mustache to match, pick up 49th Parallel.
“You can’t even begin to understand democracy. We own the right to be fed up with anything we damn please and say so out loud when we feel like it.”