Friday, October 09, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Confirm or Deny (1941)

CONFIRM OR DENY is a most interesting film set during the London Blitz, with a believably authentic London setting recreated on the Fox lot.

Don Ameche plays "Mitch" Mitchell, a reporter for the London office of Consolidated Press, which provides news reports for 1000 American papers. Mitch meets government teletype operator Jennifer (Joan Bennett) just before the city is bombed, and they take refuge together in a Tube station. They are attracted to one another, and Mitch soon arranges for Jennifer to work at Consolidated Press.

When the news agency's offices are bombed out, Mitch brashly requisitions the wine cellar of a steel-framed hotel as office space, but even that may not be enough protection to keep Consolidated Press publishing.

I loved the film's setting, such as the depiction of the Tube station during the Blitz. Details such as the poster in the Underground station urging mothers to evacuate their children from London -- a topic covered in detail at the Imperial War Museum -- or the litter baskets on the station walls seemed just right. The film was possibly inspired a bit by FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940), but I found the depiction of wartime London fairly unique and atmospheric for a U.S. film of the early '40s.

The film delves into some interesting issues, such as the paper getting a government censor (John Loder) to sit right in their office so they can publish more efficiently, and one of the film's main themes is the tension between publishing "breaking news" and protecting the war effort -- an issue which still resonates today.

For the most part the film is restrained and very British "stiff upper lip" in its depiction of the Blitz's toll. Indeed, when Mitch meets Jennifer she is on her way to her grandmother's, as the Germans have rendered Jennifer homeless, a fact she discloses with little emotion. The film does lay on the pathos a bit too heavily near the film's conclusion.

The hard-driving Mitch is the kind of role Ameche could play in his sleep. He's excellent, as is Bennett, who looks rather like Ruth Hussey in this; she has a good British accent, at least most of the time. The two characters share a nice rapport, with Bennett's matter-of-fact, calm Englishwoman contrasting well with Ameche's excitable Yank.

The supporting cast is excellent, particularly Arthur Shields as the news service's blind telegraph operator. (It's the blind employee, with his acute hearing, who provides a key moment in the film.) Roddy McDowell is a dedicated office boy, Queenie Leonard is the switchboard operator, and Eric Blore is the hotel employee who is befuddled to find a news service taking over the hotel basement.

Queenie Leonard, as a matter of fact, has been credited with teaching Joan Bennett her Cockney accent for Fritz Lang's MAN HUNT, also released in 1941.

CONFIRM OR DENY was directed by Archie Mayo. The story was cowritten by writer-director Samuel Fuller (PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET) and the screenplay was by Jo Swerling.

The movie runs a fast-paced 74 minutes and was shot in black and white by Leon Shamroy, who is perhaps best known for his stunning work in Technicolor.

This film has not had a DVD or VHS release. It can be seen on Fox Movie Channel, where it is next scheduled to air November 30, 2009.

CONFIRM OR DENY is one of countless relatively unsung little movies of the Golden Era which provides excellent entertainment, as well as fascinating insight into an historical era which is now decades behind us.

June 2013 Update: CONFIRM OR DENY is now available on DVD-R in the Fox Cinema Archives line.


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