Thursday, July 04, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Assignment in Brittany (1943)

ASSIGNMENT IN BRITTANY is an engrossing WWII espionage film. It was based on a novel by Helen MacInnes which is still in print today.

Jean-Pierre Aumont, billed in this as Pierre Aumont, plays Captain Pierre Metard, a spy working on behalf of the Free French. When it's discovered Metard looks exactly like Bertrand Corlay, a Frenchman laid up in a British hospital, Metard is sent to take his place and gather critical information.

Unbeknownst to the French and British, Corlay was a Nazi collaborator. This puts Metard-as-Corlay in a position to learn more information but also makes his situation quite awkward at times.

Corlay's mother (Margaret Wycherly) realizes early on that the man in her home is not her son, with whom she'd been grievously disappointed, and does all she can to help Metard in his mission. Corlay's lovely fiancee Anne (Susan Peters), who had intended to break their engagement, is confused by her feelings for the man she thought she no longer wanted to marry.

Meanwhile there's the threat posed by Corlay's mistress Elise (Signe Hasso), another Nazi collaborator who is suspicious of Pierre the first time he kisses her.

This is a suspenseful, well-done film which falls in the "good but not great" category. Solid acting and a strong storyline do a lot to offset the many soundstage sets with painted backdrops. The film's dramatic strength is such that a scene where several Resistance fighters, including a child, are executed is quite disturbing. Along those lines, it's also worth noting that while the film is quite violent, those scenes manage to be believable and upsetting without splattering the screen with blood and gore.

This was Aumont's first American film, and he's quite good, balancing charm with a lethal determination. His scenes with Peters have a touching tenderness, as he falls in love with the woman who is engaged to his lookalike.

Aumont made one more film at MGM, THE CROSS OF LORRAINE (1943), then left the U.S. to fight for the Free French in real life. A decade later he would make another film for MGM, LILI (1953).

Aumont married actress Maria Montez in 1943, the same year he made his two films at MGM, but she was to die unexpectedly in 1951. In 1956 he married actress Marisa Pavan, the sister of Pier Angeli; Aumont and Pavan remained married until his death in 2001, at the age of 90.

Luminous actress Susan Peters, who plays Anne, was born 92 years ago yesterday, on July 3, 1921. Peters' short career included an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress for the timeless classic RANDOM HARVEST (1942). She was paralyzed in a hunting accident on New Year's Day, 1945, later returning to the screen in just one more film, THE SIGN OF THE RAM (1948). Beset with poor health in the years after her accident, she passed on in 1952 at the age of 31.

ASSIGNMENT IN BRITTANY runs 96 minutes. It was directed by Jack Conway and filmed by Charles Rosher. The supporting cast includes George Coulouris, Darryl Hickman, Richard Whorf, Reginald Owen, and Juanita Quigley.

This film was not released on VHS and has not yet had a release on DVD. As an MGM film, it seems a likely candidate to join Peters' films such as YOUNG IDEAS (1943) and KEEP YOUR POWDER DRY (1945) as a Warner Archive release at some point in the future.

This film can be seen on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available on the TCM website.

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