Friday, November 23, 2012

Tonight's Movie: They Came to Blow Up America (1943)

THEY CAME TO BLOW UP AMERICA is an interesting WWII espionage film from 20th Century-Fox, now available on DVD thanks to the Fox Cinema Archives.

I was sold on THEY CAME TO BLOW UP AMERICA as soon as I read it featured two of my all-time favorite actors, George Sanders and Ward Bond, teaming to battle the Nazis. Sanders plays an American secret agent posing as a Nazi sympathizer, with Bond as his FBI chief contact.

Sanders goes to Germany, where he is trained by the Nazis in saboteur techniques, becomes involved with a lovely Austrian spy (Poldy Dur), and ultimately is assigned to a team of saboteurs arriving in New York via submarine. The film is loosely based on a true incident.

With a 73-minute running time, this is a short but interesting little movie, filmed in beautiful black and white by Lucien Andriot. It's surprisingly light at times, which helps to break the tension, but those light moments can turn dark pretty quickly -- witness the fate of Frau Reiter (Anna Sten), who tries to expose Sanders to the Nazis as an imposter.

I would have liked a hint of a resolution to Sanders' brief romance in the film, but otherwise it comes to a satisfying conclusion.

Film noir fans will be amused to discover gravel-voiced Charles McGraw as one of the Germans. The cast also includes Ludwig Stossel, Else Janssen, Sig Ruman, Dennis Hoey, and Robert Barrat. Don't blink and the great character actor Arthur Space can be spotted as an FBI agent near the end of the movie.

This is the third Fox Cinema Archives film I've watched, and as it happens they've all been variations on WWII spy and propaganda themes. Like THE MAN I MARRIED (1940) and SECRET AGENT OF JAPAN (1942), THEY CAME TO BLOW UP AMERICA is a beautiful print. The films combine to help present a vivid picture of the important role movies played on the homefront during the war.

Some more cynical modern-day viewers may have issues with such films; for instance, film historian Alan Rode, whom I greatly admire and respect, termed THEY CAME TO BLOW UP AMERICA "absurdly jingoistic" in his excellent biography of Charles McGraw.

THEY CAME TO BLOW UP AMERICA is far from being the most sophisticated film of its type, but for my part, I admired the movie's brisk reinforcement of the dark goals of a nation which had declared war on the United States, while simultaneously the film was meant to inspire patriotism and confidence in our cause and ultimate victory. The movie was released in the heart of the war, when our nation's survival was far from guaranteed, so I strongly question whether jingoistic is the correct adjective for a morale-boosting film of this type.

In any event, THEY CAME TO BLOW UP AMERICA is a film which can be enjoyed on multiple levels, as fast-paced "B" movie entertainment and as an interesting little slice of flag-waving wartime history.


Blogger barrylane said...

I don't care for Alan Rode's view of the world at all. The so-called film scholars have a disproportianate view that skews left not liberal. I understand that this goes to an entirely different conversation that is not only political but somewhat generational. But, often, thre is no escape.

8:26 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Barrylane!

As I mentioned, I admire Alan tremendously; he's done amazing work preserving film noir, and when I've seen him introduce numerous movies, he conveys a love of film that is absolutely infectious. There's real joy there, alongside deep knowledge, which I appreciate greatly.

That said, I agree with you that many film scholars have a left-leaning worldview I don't share. It keeps things interesting comparing impressions of certain films. :)

Best wishes,

9:49 AM  
Blogger Forgotten Films said...

The title is enough to get my interest! They just don't do great titles like that anymore!

6:02 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

It's certainly a vivid title, isn't it? Hope you can check the movie out and that you enjoy watching it.

Best wishes,

9:38 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older