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Film / 49th Parallel

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A serious case of Trailers Always Lie, since these three men aren't ever seen together or have more than 15 minutes of screen time.

From the producer/writer/director team of Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell comes their third film, 49th Parallel (a.k.a The Invaders), which stars Leslie Howard, Laurence Olivier, Raymond Massey, Anton Walbrook, and Glynis Johns.

This 1941 film follows the story of six Nazi German soldiers as they escape their U-boat 37 and terrorize small parts of Canada. Slowly, they lose men, one by one, as they face the resilient Canadians, the rugged landscape, and are faced with true freedom and democracy.

Stuck in the chilly north, the Germans find a pair of Hudson’s Bay Company trappers, Johnnie (Olivier) and the Factor of the shop (Finlay Currie). The Nazis tie up and mistreat both men, finding a plane that crash lands them into Manitoba. There they meet a village of friendly Hutterites. Their leader, Kevin (Walbrook), lets them stay, as is their friendly wont, but the Germans quickly get kicked out.

With only two men remaining, Lt. Hirth (Eric Portman) and Lorhmann (John Chandos), they walk their way to the secluded beauty of Banff and meet writer, Philip Armstrong Scott (Howard) who they immediately dislike for his bohemian ways, but learn not to cross with even the most peaceful of Canadians.

The last man left standing is Hirth, who manages to escape on a train heading towards the currently neutral America. However, he meets native Torontonian, Andy Brock (Massey), who will not let him get away to America.

Pressburger won an Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay) for this film, and the film proper was nominated for Best Picture but lost to Mrs. Miniver.

Powell hoped this Propaganda Machine film would stir up the Americans into joining the war by showing them a real threat of German infiltration through Canada. Which never happened, by the way, although German U-boats destroyed several Canadian merchant ships (during the Battle of the St. Lawrence) on their way to supply necessary oil and petroleum and other important supplies to Britain. Similarly to the film, however, a team of Nazi German saboteurs landed in the US but were quickly caught and later executed. After that no further attempts were made.


  • An Aesop: Your Nazi rhetoric don’t work much on Canadians, eh?
  • All Germans Are Nazis: Subverted. While in Canada, the saboteurs' leader Hirth tries to get some German Canadian Hutterites onto their side with Nazi rhetoric. Being a pacifist sect and glad to be Canadians, they naturally reject him. Among the saboteurs, Vogel has little enthusiasm for the Nazi cause, and he tries to join the Hutterites instead. Hirth shoots him for this.
  • And This Is for...: When Lohrmann is cornered in a cave, Scott is shot, but enters the cave and beats him up, counting out loud the individual blows, each one in recompense for the loss of his two paintings, a Matisse and a Picasso; three books, including his own widely researched but as yet unpublished manuscript; and finally for his own wounds and temporary imprisonment.
  • Asshole Victim: The Nazi invaders, they all had it coming (well, maybe except Vogel).
  • Ax-Crazy: Downplayed, the fanatical and ruthless Nazis do kill anyone who gets in their way and while in the first act they have massacred and brutalized Innocent Bystanders, but by the time they lost their firearms, they are left at a disadvantage and are limited to only mostly knocking out their subsequent opponents with blunt weapons or threatening them at gunpoint whenever they do find a new firearm, but unable to kill them when ever they have the advantage.
  • The Atoner: Vogel gradually becomes disillusioned and ashamed for what he and his accomplices were doing and does a Heel–Face Turn to join the Hutterites to redeem himself. However, just as he begins his path to redemption, Hirth has him executed.
  • Bad Boss: Hirth's treatment of his underlings would come across as this, which includes slapping a sailor for cursing out the one who bombed their sub, though to be fair would likely give out their position, to executing the Token Good Teammate Vogel for deserting.
  • Barbaric Bully: The Nazis' methods of terrorizing include killing anyone undesirable that gets in their way and vandalizing anything anti-Nazi, to the point that Scott called them out for being spiteful little schoolboys.
  • Bathtub Scene: A rare male version, and an even rarer Laurence Olivier version, where only a few bubbles and camera angle keep us from seeing stuff.
  • The Big Board: The Canadians have a pretty nifty board in Mission Control that shows the whole country and can zoom in on important areas like the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Poor Johnny, as he's slowly dying inside the trading post.
  • Book Burning: Because they're Nazis, the two remaining submariners set fire to Philip Scott's volume of Thomas Mann (Mann was an anti-Nazi German dissident), and then burn Scott's own manuscript on the Blackfeet tribe.
  • The Bully: Hirth and his cronies are not above harassing Canadians and breaking their stuff.
  • Bully Hunter: The Canadians who fight back against Hirth's and his gang's bullying.
  • Canada, Eh?: Where to begin? The Germans complain about the cold weather; there’s Scenery Porn up the yingyang, showing Banff, Niagara Falls, and the Prairies; there’s a French-Canadian fur trapper who sings French nursery rhymes; the Germans basically travel all across Canada meeting Native Americans, Hutterites, and your everyday, average Canadians; there’s a quick shout out to RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) and the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation); and last, but not least, Raymond Massey says Toronto like “Torrana”.
  • Conversation Cut: Scott takes pleasure in how he, an unarmed decadent Canadian, captures a gun-toting Nazi superman, and then says "I wonder how Dr. Goebbels will explain that." Cut to a Nazi radio announcer praising the heroism of Hirth, our last remaining German.
  • Counting Bullets: Scott approaches the cave where Lohmann's holed up, counting off the bullets that Lohmann's firing from Scott's gun. When he gets to four and knows Lohmann is out, he goes into the cave.
  • Dirty Coward: Most of the Nazis in their final moments just before either death or capture are reduced to this, except Vogel who remains calm as he is executed by his own men.
  • During the War: Canadians had already joined the effort, but the Americans had yet to involve themselves.
  • Dwindling Party: Starting with the guy shot out of the plane just as it's taking off, the Germans drop off one by one over the course of the movie. Only one makes it to the Canadian border.
  • Evil Virtues: Though it's painted in a negative light. For all of his unsavory traits especially in comparison to his underling Vogel, Hirth has some virtues. In many ways he is a typical Nazi - arrogant, fanatical, ruthless and blinkered. Yet he also has some admirable qualities - courage, resourcefulness, determination and the sort of never-say-die spirit more commonly associated in propaganda films with Britons than with Germans. Pressburger seems to be warning us that the Nazis are not just cowardly bullies and that with men of the calibre of Hirth on the other side the fight will not be an easy one. Hirth belongs to a German tradition of loyalty, obedience and service to the state which is much older than Hitler. He genuinely cannot understand the concepts of democracy, liberalism and individualism, and is completely bewildered by the lifestyle of the Hutterite community, asking not only "who is your leader?" but "what's the salute?" He is an idealist who believes that he and the rest of the Nazis know what is best for everyone.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Vogel is the only German military character to remain calm in the face of the end of his own character arc as he does not cower in fear as Hirth has him Shot at Dawn.
  • From Bad to Worse: The Nazis' situation gets dire once they reach Banff, but it's hard to feel sorry for them.
  • Hate Sink: Even though they are the protagonists, the Nazis in the film are all mostly made to be despicable as possible due to their cruel Kick the Dog acts except maybe Vogel. Making each nasty member's Laser-Guided Karma very cathartic.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: Vogel get executed for defecting from his group to join the Hutterites.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Vogel finally defects from the Nazis and joins the Hutterites, though it doesn't last long.
  • Hero Antagonist: The countless Hero of Another Story Canadians that the Nazis encountered.
  • Hero of Another Story: The Canadians played by Leslie Howard, Laurence Olivier, Raymond Massey and Anton Walbrook.
  • It's All About Me: The stranded Nazis barely seem to care about each other, much less the people they're robbing/tormenting.
  • Jerkass: Nazi or not, Hirth and his fellows are quite mean-spirited and unpleasant vandals.
  • Kangaroo Court: Hirth holds a drumhead court martial for Vogel before having him Shot at Dawn for attempting to defect from the Nazis to join the Hutterites.
  • Miles Gloriosus: Hirth and the Nazis blindly believes in escaping Canada due to their Nazi loyalties. Not only did they fail, but were reduced to squirming Dirty Cowards as they are overpowered and cornered by their enemies one by one.
  • Morality Pet: The Hutterites (especially Anna played by Glynis Johns) become this to Vogel, which is enough to convince him to desert from his group and undergo a Heel–Face Turn, though it did not last long.
  • Mugged for Disguise: Hirth knocks out Brock and steals his uniform and dog tags as part of his plan to sneak into the US.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: Vogel is an interesting case. He’s the only one who shows compassion to Johnnie while he’s dying by bringing his rosary. He’s also quite happy with the Hutterites because he likes their simple way of living, what he was used to before the Nazis came to power. He shows that the Nazi soldier life was something that he got swept into and looks ashamed when Hirth gives the Hutterites a speech. It doesn’t excuse his actions, however, but he did not seem to directly participate with his accomplices' horrible atrocities and later had a Heel–Face Turn (which turns into Redemption Equals Death the next day before he could have a chance to atone for his aforementioned inexcusable actions).
  • Nazi Protagonist: Six Nazis infiltrate into Canada, and we see them fail again and again to convince Canadians of their might.
  • The Neidermeyer: Hirth and his military cronies are Nazis whose arrogance are mistaken for tactics and would pillage anything anti-Nazi along the way.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Vogel's Heel–Face Turn would lead to his execution by his comrades.
  • Non-Indicative Name: No scene takes place at the 49th parallel. The one border scene in the movie is set further south at Niagara Falls.
  • No Swastikas: Averted when the then-overly zealous Nazi Vogel carves one on the wall of the fur trapper’s home.
  • Nursery Rhyme: Johnnie sings the famous French-Canadian children’s song, “Alouete.”
  • Only Sane Man: Vogel, who is the most moral and least fanatical of the group of Nazis.
  • Opportunistic Bastard: Lohrmann is one as he is a Dirty Coward who just wants to selfishly survive and earlier took advantage of the hot water, while the other Hirth insists on using cold water so as to not taint his Nazi pride in the shower at the mountain camp.
  • Patriotic Fervour: Taken up to eleven by the Nazis, and given that this is a propaganda film, it’s the very, very bad version of this trope, to the point it portrays them (especially Hirth) as borderline psychotic.
  • Perfect Pacifist People: The Hutterites. They don’t even believe in hating one another, so when the Nazis come trying to convince them to join their brotherhood (i.e. Nazi white nationalism), the Hutterites receive the speech with stone silence, then ask them to leave.
  • Pet the Dog: Vogel is the only German sailor to do this, as he did gave the dying Johnnie his rosary.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Vogel is one as unlike his fanatical and horrible comrades, Vogel is not really enthusiastic about the Nazi cause and only joined as it was part of government policy.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Scott compared Nazis Hirth and Lohrmann vandalizing his tent to spiteful little schoolboys.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: One of the best given by Peter the leader of the Hutterites:
    I don’t ask where you come from or what brought you here, although you have left us in no doubt as to your beliefs. Someone has given you, no doubt deliberately, a completely false impression of us. We are only one amongst many foreign settlements in Canada. There are thousands of them in this part of the world. And they have been founded—some recently, some 80 years ago— by people who left their homes in Europe because of famine, because of starvation, because of racial and political prosecution, and some like ourselves, because of their faith. Some came only to find new land, new boundaries, and new worlds. But all have found here in Canada security, peace and tolerance and understanding which in Europe it is your Fuhrer’s pride to have stamped out. You call us Germans, you call us brothers. Yes, most of us are Germans. Our names are Germans, our town is German, our old handwritten books are in German scripts. But we are not your brothers. Our Germany is dead. However hard this may be for some of us older people, it’s a blessing for our children. Our children grow up against new backgrounds, new horizons. And they are free! Free to grow up as children. Free to run and to laugh without being forced into uniforms, without being forced to march up and down the streets singing battle songs! You talk about the new order in Europe. The new order. Where it would be one corner, not a hole big enough for a mouse where a decent man can breathe freely […] We only hate the power of evil that is spreading over the world. You and your Hitlerism, are like the microbes of some filthy disease filled with the longing to multiply yourselves until you destroy everything healthy in the world. No, we are not your brothers.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Vogel, who is killed by his commander after doing a Heel–Face Turn.
  • Run for the Border: The film follows several Nazi submarine crewmen marooned in Canada fleeing for the borders of the then-neutral United States and being killed or captured one by one. Their leader, Hirth makes it across the border by stowing away on a baggage train. The customs officials he surrenders himself to are disgusted by Hirth's fanaticism and the murders he committed on his way to the border but feel their hands are tied. Then it's pointed out to them that Hirth is inside of a baggage car but isn't listed on the freight manifest. They send a message to the Canadian authorities to either properly list the "freight" or be take it off the train, knowing this will get Hirth arrested.
  • Scenery Porn: We get some beautiful shots of the Rockies in Banff, wheat fields form the Prairies, and all around beautiful, Canadian scenery.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Lohrmann eventually had enough of Hirth and his bad decisions and pistol whips him unconscious to part ways out of selfishness, subsequently leading to his own defeat at the hands of Philip Armstrong Scott.
  • Shot at Dawn: Hirth has Vogel executed for attempting to defect from the Nazis to join the Hutterites.
  • Smug Snake: The inexperienced Hirth and his cohorts arrogantly believed they could escape Canada. How wrong they are.
  • The Sociopath: Hirth and most of his gang are men with no remorse nor conscience.
  • Sociopathic Soldier: Hirth and most of his subordinates are Nazi Kreigsmarine crew members and quite remorseless, bullying and fanatical thugs who never stop to Kick the Dog.
  • Stupid Evil: Hirth and his Nazi cohorts would qualify due to their blind Nazi fanaticism that led to their infighting, underestimating their enemies, wasting time by pillaging anything they see as anti-Nazi and getting captured one by one.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Averted. These Nazis aren’t very wacky… not wacky at all.
  • Token Good Teammate: Vogel, the most moral and least terrible of the group of stranded Nazis.
  • Tricked into Another Jurisdiction: At the end of the film, Hirth, the last fugitive, is locked in a freight car with Brock, an AWOL Canadian soldier, as the train crosses the US/Canadian border. Hirth surrenders his gun to a U.S. Customs official and demands to be taken to the German embassy. Brock explains that Hirth, now world famous, is wanted in Canada for murder, and points out that neither of them is listed on the freight manifest. The customs officer uses this as an excuse to send the train back, phoning Canadian customs and telling them there are two items not on the manifest, and to either put them on the manifest or take them off the train.
  • Verbal Irony: Andy Brock expresses his frustration at being assigned to boring stateside duty rather than being sent to Europe, saying "I'm about as close to getting my hands on a real-live Jerry as I was at the beginning." He says this to an actual Nazi.
  • Villain Opening Scene: The film begins with the U-boat destroying a Canadian merchant ship.
  • Villain Protagonist: The film follows the Nazis from beginning to end.
  • Villainous Breakdown: The Nazis are reverted to Dirty Cowards when they are cornered one by one and even fighting amongst themselves when their time is up. A good example would be by Hirth, after Brock manages the convince the Americans to turn the train back, causing him to panically express a This Cannot Be! and then cowered as Brock prepares to beat him up.
  • We Have Become Complacent: Philip suffers from this and mentions that living in the beautiful landscape makes the war almost non-existent for him. This changes once the Nazis reveal themselves, and Philip fights them off and beats the living daylights out of Lorhmann.
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: Olivier’s outrageous French-Canadian accent is simply hilarious.
  • You Have Failed Me: Vogel joining the Hutterites doesn't please Hirth who has him promptly executed for deserting them.