Film: Went the Day Well? [1942, england]
Where I saw it: Los Angeles at New Beverly
Who with: loner style
Nazi killing gratification: ****1/2
My graduation thesis at the University of Oklahoma was a forty-page paper on the use of propaganda in Soviet Union cinema during the 1930s. I watched a bunch of highly slanted films that portrayed life in the Soviet Union as the best place on earth. I also watched a lot of propaganda films from WWII era Hollywood as the studios tried to up the sense of duty by inspiring the home front to join, work and support the war effort that existed on such an epic scale. An interesting thing about the American propaganda films during the war was how friendly they were regarding the Soviet Union. That would soon change when the war ended as comrades become the enemy.
Despite my binge in propaganda cinema from this era more than a decade ago, I'd never heard of the 1942 English film Went the Day Well? from director Alberto Cavalcanti. What a treasure this movie is! Went the Day Well? is one of the more rousing examples of propaganda cinema that you are likely to see due to the fact that it was filmed in England during an actual war. The plot of Went the Day Well? is something that the English people were truly worried about as a possibility: Germans invading. Although the threat of German invasion was lessoning in 1942, Nazi spies in villages or troops crossing the channel was still very much in the public consciousness. This adds a tremendous amount of heft to the unique viewpoint of Went the Day Well?.
Based on a story by Graham Greene, a group of English troops arrive in a sleepy village with claims they are training. They are lying. These are German soldiers who will knock out the communication for an upcoming larger invasion by more German troops. At first, the locals offer up their bedrooms, kitchens and give the soldiers every hospitality. When the Germans decide to make their true identity known, they herd the locals into a church at gun point and are brutal to anyone who attempts to escape or fight back. No one is safe from the evil Germans--not elderly ministers, not women and not children.
Of course, the people don't just sit in the church and do nothing. The entire town, men, women, elderly and children, rise up against the bastard Nazis and fight back with relish and deadly force. To see the English band together and take up arms is thrilling, exciting and very effective and propaganda at its finest. I can only imagine what it was like to see Went the Day Well? in an English movie theatre in 1942 as the townsfolk start killing the Germans in their midst. There were cheers at the New Beverly and we're nearly seventy years removed from the film's release.
The most surprising thing about Cavalcanti's film is just how it relishes the violence and extremity of both the German and English actions. Yes, the combat scenes are dated judged against today's standards, but the sheer evil of the Germans [they kill or will kill anyone in town without pause] and the pleasure the English take in striking back is a joy to witness. To see an elderly woman use a pick ax with the ferocious intention of killing a man without thought is a primal thing to witness. There's plenty of bayoneting, shooting, knifing, strangling and other on-screen deaths. Awesome stuff.
Went the Day Well? works not only a propaganda film about home-front resistance, it is a wonderful WWII movie that shows English paranoia manifesting in a cheeky, dark, violent little movie. There's a tinge of black comedy running throughout and the movie is just as subversive as it is rousing to get the English blood boiling against the no-good Germans. Highly recommended.