49th Parallel (film)
49th Parallel is the third film made by the British
Cinema of the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom has had a major influence on modern cinema. The first moving pictures developed on celluloid film were made in Hyde Park, London in 1889 by William Friese Greene, a British inventor, who patented the process in 1890. It is generally regarded that the British film industry...

 writer-director team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Powell and Pressburger
The British film-making partnership of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, also known as The Archers, made a series of influential films in the 1940s and 1950s. In 1981 they were recognized for their contributions to British cinema with the BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award, the most prestigious...

. It was released in the United States as The Invaders. Despite the title, no scene in the movie is set at the 49th parallel
49th parallel north
The 49th parallel north is a circle of latitude that is 49 degrees north of the Earth's equatorial plane. It crosses Europe, Asia, the Pacific Ocean, North America, and the Atlantic Ocean....

, which forms much of the U.S.-Canadian
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 border. The only border scene is at Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls
The Niagara Falls, located on the Niagara River draining Lake Erie into Lake Ontario, is the collective name for the Horseshoe Falls and the adjacent American Falls along with the comparatively small Bridal Veil Falls, which combined form the highest flow rate of any waterfalls in the world and has...

, which is located farther south.

The British Ministry of Information approached Michael Powell
Michael Powell (director)
Michael Latham Powell was a renowned English film director, celebrated for his partnership with Emeric Pressburger...

 to make a propaganda film for them, suggesting he make "a film about mine-sweeping." Instead, Powell decided to make a different film to help sway opinions in the still-neutral United States. Said Powell, "I hoped it might scare the pants off the Americans [and thus bring them into the war]." Screenwriter Emeric Pressburger
Emeric Pressburger
Emeric Pressburger was a Hungarian-British screenwriter, film director, and producer. He is best known for his series of film collaborations with Michael Powell, in a multiple-award-winning partnership known as The Archers and produced a series of classic British films, notably 49th Parallel , The...

 remarked, "Goebbels
Joseph Goebbels
Paul Joseph Goebbels was a German politician and Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. As one of Adolf Hitler's closest associates and most devout followers, he was known for his zealous oratory and anti-Semitism...

 considered himself an expert on propaganda, but I thought I'd show him a thing or two." After persuading the British and Canadian governments, Powell started location filming in 1940.

The original choice to play Hirth was Archers stalwart Esmond Knight
Esmond Knight
Esmond Penington Knight was an English actor.He was an accomplished actor with a career spanning over half a century. For much of his career Esmond Knight was virtually blind...

, but he had decided to join the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 at the outbreak of war. Anton Walbrook donated half his fee to the International Red Cross
International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is an international humanitarian movement with approximately 97 million volunteers, members and staff worldwide which was founded to protect human life and health, to ensure respect for all human beings, and to prevent and alleviate human...

. This is the only time that Canadian-born Massey played a Canadian on screen. Massey, Olivier and Howard all agreed to work at half their normal fee because they felt it was an important propaganda film.


Early in the Second World War
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, six Nazi
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

 sailors caught ashore when their U-boat
U-boat is the anglicized version of the German word U-Boot , itself an abbreviation of Unterseeboot , and refers to military submarines operated by Germany, particularly in World War I and World War II...

 is sunk in Hudson Bay
Hudson Bay
Hudson Bay , sometimes called Hudson's Bay, is a large body of saltwater in northeastern Canada. It drains a very large area, about , that includes parts of Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Alberta, most of Manitoba, southeastern Nunavut, as well as parts of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota,...

, attempt to evade capture by traveling across Canada to the still-neutral United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 — the title comes from the 49th parallel north
49th parallel north
The 49th parallel north is a circle of latitude that is 49 degrees north of the Earth's equatorial plane. It crosses Europe, Asia, the Pacific Ocean, North America, and the Atlantic Ocean....

 which marks part of the border between the two countries. Led by Lieutenants Hirth (Portman) and Kuhnecke (Lovell), the small band of sailors encounter and sometimes brutalize a wide range of people, including a French-Canadian trapper (Olivier), pacifistic German Hutterite
Hutterites are a communal branch of Anabaptists who, like the Amish and Mennonites, trace their roots to the Radical Reformation of the 16th century. Since the death of their founder Jakob Hutter in 1536, the beliefs of the Hutterites, especially living in a community of goods and absolute...

 farmers and an eccentric English academic and author (Howard) — who despite being wounded, helps capture a Nazi.

Making their way across Canada via stolen aircraft and automobile, the small band of Nazis try to stir up sympathy among the Hutterite community outside Winnipeg, believing them to be countrymen. Hirth's stirring speech is rejected by Peter (Walbrook), the colony's leader, and even by one of their own (MacGinnis) who comes to the aid of Anna (Johns) and is summarily tried and executed for the greater crime of trying to break away from the group. With all of Canada searching for them, after they have killed 11 civilians along the way, finally, it all comes down to a confrontation on a freight train between Hirth, the sole remaining fugitive at large, and AWOL Canadian soldier Andy Brock (Massey). When Hirth learns the train has crossed into the United States, he surrenders his gun to a customs official and demands to be taken to the German embassy in the U.S. (a country officially neutral at the time). However, Brock points out that Hirth is locked in the freight hold, but isn't listed on the freight manifest, and begs that Hirth be sent back to Canada as improper cargo. The American customs official is happy to comply, and the film ends with the train starting its return to Canada and Brock about to pummel Hirth in the boxcar.


The U-Boat Crew
  • Richard George as Kommandant Bernsdorff
  • Eric Portman
    Eric Portman
    Eric Portman was a distinguished English stage and film actor...

     as Lieutenant Hirth
  • Raymond Lovell
    Raymond Lovell
    Raymond Lovell was a Canadian-born film actor who performed in British produced films. He mainly played supporting roles, and was often seen as slightly pompous characters...

     as Lieutenant Kuhnecke
  • Niall MacGinnis
    Niall MacGinnis
    Niall MacGinnis was an Irish actor who made 80 screen appearances.-Early life:MacGinnis was born in Dublin in 1913. He was educated at Stonyhurst College in England, and studied medicine at Dublin University. He qualified as a house surgeon...

     as Vogel
  • Peter Moore as Kranz
  • John Chandos
    John Chandos
    Sir John Chandos, Viscount of Saint-Sauveur in the Cotentin, Constable of Aquitaine, Seneschal of Poitou, KG was a medieval English knight who hailed from Radbourne Hall, Derbyshire. Chandos was a close friend of Edward, the Black Prince and a founding member and 19th Knight of the Order of the...

     as Lohrmann
  • Basil Appleby as Jahner

The Canadians
  • Laurence Olivier
    Laurence Olivier
    Laurence Kerr Olivier, Baron Olivier, OM was an English actor, director, and producer. He was one of the most famous and revered actors of the 20th century. He married three times, to fellow actors Jill Esmond, Vivien Leigh, and Joan Plowright...

     as Johnnie, the Trapper
  • Finlay Currie
    Finlay Currie
    Finlay Jefferson Currie was a Scottish actor of stage, screen and television.Currie was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1878. His acting career began on the stage. He and his wife Maude Courtney did a song and dance act in the US in the 1890s. He made his first film in 1931...

     as The Factor
  • Ley On as Nick, the Eskimo (Inuit)
  • Anton Walbrook
    Anton Walbrook
    Anton Walbrook, born was an Austrian actor who settled in the United Kingdom.- Life :...

     as Peter
  • Glynis Johns
    Glynis Johns
    Glynis Johns is a South African-born Welsh stage and film actress, dancer, pianist and singer . With a career spanning seven decades, Johns is often cited as the "complete actress", who happens to be a trained pianist and singer...

     as Anna
  • Charles Victor
    Charles Victor
    Charles Victor was a British actor who appeared in a number of films and television between 1938 and 1965.-Selected filmography:* Return of the Frog * Hell's Cargo * Contraband...

     as Andreas
  • Frederick Piper
    Frederick Piper
    Frederick Piper was an English actor who appeared in over 80 films and many television productions in a career spanning over 40 years. Never a leading player, Piper was usually cast in minor, sometimes uncredited, parts although he also appeared in some more substantial supporting roles...

     as David
  • Tawera Moana as George, the Indian
  • Eric Clavering as Art
  • Charles Rolfe as Bob
  • Raymond Massey
    Raymond Massey
    Raymond Hart Massey was a Canadian/American actor.-Early life:Massey was born in Toronto, Ontario, the son of Anna , who was born in Illinois, and Chester Daniel Massey, the wealthy owner of the Massey-Ferguson Tractor Company. Massey's family could trace their ancestry back to the American...

     as Andy Brock

  • Leslie Howard
    Leslie Howard (actor)
    Leslie Howard was an English stage and film actor, director, and producer. Among his best-known roles was Ashley Wilkes in Gone with the Wind and roles in Berkeley Square , Of Human Bondage , The Scarlet Pimpernel , The Petrified Forest , Pygmalion , Intermezzo , Pimpernel Smith...

     as Philip Armstrong Scott
  • Theodore Salt, O.W. Fonger as The United States Customs Officers


Powell's interest in making a propaganda
Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position so as to benefit oneself or one's group....

 film set in Canada to aid the British war effort dovetailed with some of Pressburger's work. Although only a concept during preproduction, a screenplay began to be formulated based on Pressburger's idea to replicate the "Ten Little Indians
And Then There Were None
And Then There Were None is a detective fiction novel by Agatha Christie, first published in the United Kingdom by the Collins Crime Club on 6 November 1939 under the title Ten Little Niggers which was changed by Dodd, Mead and Company in January 1940 because of the presence of a racial...

" scenario of people being removed from a group, one by one. While Powell and Pressburger developed the screenplay, additional photography was assembled of the scope and breadth of Canada. All the opening "travelogue" footage was shot by Freddie Young
Freddie Young
Freddie Young OBE, BSC , was one of Britain's most distinguished and influential cinematographers...

 with a hand-held camera out the windows of various aircraft, trains and automobiles on an initial trip across Canada.

The U-boat was built by Harry Roper of Halifax, Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia is one of Canada's three Maritime provinces and is the most populous province in Atlantic Canada. The name of the province is Latin for "New Scotland," but "Nova Scotia" is the recognized, English-language name of the province. The provincial capital is Halifax. Nova Scotia is the...

 and towed to Corner Brook
Corner Brook, Newfoundland and Labrador
Corner Brook is a city located on the west coast of the island of Newfoundland in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada....

, Newfoundland
Newfoundland and Labrador
Newfoundland and Labrador is the easternmost province of Canada. Situated in the country's Atlantic region, it incorporates the island of Newfoundland and mainland Labrador with a combined area of . As of April 2011, the province's estimated population is 508,400...

, where it was "shot down" by the Royal Canadian Air Force
Royal Canadian Air Force
The history of the Royal Canadian Air Force begins in 1920, when the air force was created as the Canadian Air Force . In 1924 the CAF was renamed the Royal Canadian Air Force and granted royal sanction by King George V. The RCAF existed as an independent service until 1968...

 Lockheed Hudson
Lockheed Hudson
The Lockheed Hudson was an American-built light bomber and coastal reconnaissance aircraft built initially for the Royal Air Force shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War and primarily operated by the RAF thereafter...

 bombers in the Strait of Belle Isle at the beginning of the film. Powell forgot that Newfoundland was at the time a Crown Colony
British overseas territories
The British Overseas Territories are fourteen territories of the United Kingdom which, although they do not form part of the United Kingdom itself, fall under its jurisdiction. They are remnants of the British Empire that have not acquired independence or have voted to remain British territories...

, not a part of Canada. As a result, when they moved the full-sized submarine model there, it was impounded by Customs & Excise
Customs is an authority or agency in a country responsible for collecting and safeguarding customs duties and for controlling the flow of goods including animals, transports, personal effects and hazardous items in and out of a country...

, which demanded that import duty be paid. Powell had to appeal to the Governor of Newfoundland, citing the film's contribution to the war effort.

The "U-37" carried two 1,000 lb bombs supplied by the RCAF. Powell didn't tell the actors that they were aboard, as he thought that they might become nervous. The actors were replaced by dummies before the bombs were detonated. Michael Powell's voice can be heard faintly in some of the submarine scenes. Once, when the camera boat almost collides with the submarine, Powell says "Keep rolling."

The men in the lifeboat at the start of the film were mainly local merchant seamen, many of whom had already been torpedoed. Lovell nearly drowned in the scene where the floatplane they have commandeered, crashes. Even those who could swim (which Lovell couldn't) became flustered when the aircraft sank faster than anticipated. The stink bomb that was thrown in to "heighten the turmoil" added greatly to the chaos. A member of the camera crew jumped in and saved the actor.

The Hutterites near Winnipeg
Winnipeg is the capital and largest city of Manitoba, Canada, and is the primary municipality of the Winnipeg Capital Region, with more than half of Manitoba's population. It is located near the longitudinal centre of North America, at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers .The name...

 allowed the film company into their community. Like the better known Amish
The Amish , sometimes referred to as Amish Mennonites, are a group of Christian church fellowships that form a subgroup of the Mennonite churches...

, they live in simple, self-sufficient communities, leading an austere, strict lifestyle. Elisabeth Bergner
Elisabeth Bergner
Elisabeth Bergner was an actress.She was born Elisabeth Ettel in Drohobycz, Austro-Hungarian Empire ....

 was originally cast in the role of Anna. When a Hutterite woman saw Bergner painting her nails and smoking, she became so incensed that she rushed up, knocked the cigarette from the actress's mouth and slapped her in the face. Powell had to make peace with the community and with the outraged star.Bergner later deserted the film, refusing to come back to England for the studio scenes. It is believed that, as an ex-German national, she feared for her life if the Nazis were to invade. Glynis Johns stepped in to replace Bergner, a rare instance of an established star standing in for a lesser-known actress. The initial long shots of Anna are of Bergner. For the scene where the Hutterites listen to Eric Portman's impassioned pro-Nazi speech, the actors were all "hand picked faces". Over half were refugees from Hitler.

Notable crew members include classical music composer Ralph Vaughan Williams
Ralph Vaughan Williams
Ralph Vaughan Williams OM was an English composer of symphonies, chamber music, opera, choral music, and film scores. He was also a collector of English folk music and song: this activity both influenced his editorial approach to the English Hymnal, beginning in 1904, in which he included many...

, contributing his first film score, and David Lean
David Lean
Sir David Lean CBE was an English film director, producer, screenwriter, and editor best remembered for big-screen epics such as The Bridge on the River Kwai , Lawrence of Arabia ,...

 as editor. Raymond Massey's brother Vincent Massey
Vincent Massey
Charles Vincent Massey was a Canadian lawyer and diplomat who served as Governor General of Canada, the 18th since Canadian Confederation....

, then Canadian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, (future Governor General of Canada) read the prologue.

A Western Canada Airways
Canadian Airways
Canadian Airways was an airline formed when Western Canadian Airways bought out Commercial. It operated through the 1930s until it was purchased by Canadian Pacific Air Lines in 1941, carrying passengers on mail planes into smaller communities.-History:James Armstrong Richardson established WCA in...

 Fairchild 71
Fairchild 71
-Bibliography:* Donald, David, ed. The Encyclopedia of World Aircraft. Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada: Prospero Books, 1997. ISBN 1-85605-375-X.* Milberry, Larry. Aviation In Canada. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson Ltd., 1979. ISBN 0-07-082778-8....

 "CF-BJE" configured as a floatplane, is featured prominently in the Hudson Bay sequence.


By modern standards, the depiction of Canadians is stereotypical: brave Mounties; decorated Indians; Scottish-accented Hudson's Bay Company men; overwrought French-Canadians, including Olivier's often-criticized accent. However, Pressburger deliberately used the peaceful diversity of Canada to contrast with the fanatical world view of the Nazis. This world view was also played up to frighten American audiences in an attempt to bring America into the war. However, its inclusion of Nazis as leading characters at all, and its criticism of them in spiritual terms rather than straightforward demonisation, are highly unusual for a British Second World War propaganda film. Powell and Pressburger would return to similar themes in the more controversial The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is a 1943 film by the British film making team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger under the production banner of The Archers. It stars Roger Livesey, Deborah Kerr and Anton Walbrook. The title derives from the satirical Colonel Blimp comic strip by David...

and A Canterbury Tale
A Canterbury Tale
A Canterbury Tale is a 1944 British film by the film-making team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. It stars Eric Portman, Sheila Sim, Dennis Price and Sgt. John Sweet; Esmond Knight provided narration and played several small roles. For the postwar American release, Raymond Massey narrated...


Critical reviews were generally favourable, with The New York Times reviewer effusing, "Tense action... excellent performances. An absorbing and exciting film!" and Variety concluding: "This is an important and effective film. Opening scenes promise much, and it lives up to expectations. Every part, to the smallest bits, is magnificently played..."


The film won Pressburger an Academy Award
Academy Awards
An Academy Award, also known as an Oscar, is an accolade bestowed by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to recognize excellence of professionals in the film industry, including directors, actors, and writers...

 for Best Story
Academy Award for Best Story
The Academy Award for Best Story was an Academy Award given from the beginning of the Academy Awards until 1957, when it was eliminated in favor of the Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay, which had been introduced in 1940.-1920s:...

 and was nominated for Best Picture
Academy Award for Best Picture
The Academy Award for Best Picture is one of the Academy Awards of Merit presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to artists working in the motion picture industry. The Best Picture category is the only category in which every member of the Academy is eligible not only...

 and Best Screenplay (including Rodney Ackland
Rodney Ackland
Rodney Ackland was an English playwright, actor, theatre director and screenwriter.He was educated at Balham Grammar School in London...

 for additional dialogue).

The British Film Institute
British Film Institute
The British Film Institute is a charitable organisation established by Royal Charter to:-Cinemas:The BFI runs the BFI Southbank and IMAX theatre, both located on the south bank of the River Thames in London...

 ranked the film the 63rd most popular film with British audiences, based on cinema attendance of 9.3 million in the UK.

Continuity problems

At the conclusion of the film, while trying to escape to the United States at Niagara Falls, the train is supposedly crossing the border bridge from Canada into the U.S.. In actuality the train is shown traveling from the U.S. to the Canadian side. And later, as it is supposedly returning to Canada, it is shown again going from Canada to the U.S. (the river is shown in these shots and flows south to north at this point and Canada is to the west. Camera is shooting south.)

During the attack sequence in the Hudson Bay, the attacking RCAF bombers inexplicably change from Lockheed Hudsons to Douglas Digby aircraft in mid-scene.

External links

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