Went the Day Well? - Classic Film Pick
John Maxwell Edmonds's elegant World War I epitaph sets the tone for the film that would allow Brazilian director Alberto Cavalcantis to graduate from making documentaries to features in 1942. Loosely adapted from Graham Greene's short story "The Lieutenant Died Last," the plot centers around a peaceful English village infiltrated by a platoon of Nazi paratroopers disguised as British soldiers. As an effective work of surreptitious World War II propaganda, "Went the Day Well?" is instructive on many levels.
Produced at Britain's Ealing Studios in 1942, this determinedly unsentimental war film was made with a strong sense of social realism in spite of its fictitious elements and stock British characters. None are immune to death. In the complacent village of Bramley End women gossip, a man poaches rabbits, and a wedding approaches. The story takes place over the period of a springtime weekend. Four male members of the town's Home Guard go on a training exercise in the countryside just as the Germans arrive incognito under the complicity of the town's "fifth columnist" mayor, Oliver Wilsford (Leslie Banks). As much a German patriot as an English traitor, Wilsford helps the position the German troops in strategic strongholds with handshakes and cups of tea.
The town's women are the first to take notice of irregularities in the visiting troops' behavior that point to something fishy. A grandmother takes umbrage at the way a German soldier abuses a boy and quickly reprimands the soldier before complaining to his commanding officer. A piece of scrap paper used by Germans to keep score for a card game reveals sevens written in the "continental" style. A chocolate bar from Austria is another giveaway. Indeed, the townswomen support the film's theme of communal resistance as much, if not more, than the male characters.
Originally titled "They Came in Khaki," "Went the Day Well?" was designed to remind British citizens of the ongoing need to be ever vigilant against foreign invasion. The idea that the very authorities employed to protect its citizens could be malicious occupiers brings up relevant questions about military-imposed oppression as it exists around the world. Retaliation is vital, the film seems to say. But how can you tell the enemy when they are dressed as patriots?
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