Monday, July 2, 2018

Northern Pursuit

Yesterday was Canada Day, and if I hadn't had other stuff to write about, I probably should have used the day to blog about Northern Pursuit.

The movie starts out with a man crossing the border into Canada claiming to be a tourist. He makes some small talk with another man, and ultimately passes the other man an envelope. Obviously there's some sort of espionage afoot. There's another exchange off two leading to a man getting stuck in the snowy mountains of northern Manitoba (no lectures, please, Mr. Treble, on Americans' need to learn more about Canada). That man is a Nazi officer, Col. von Keller (Helmut Dantine). He specifically has his Nazi insignia in under his civvies so that if the Canadian authorities catch him, they'll have to treat him as a POW and not a spy.

Sure enough, he's caught, or more accurately saved from the elements by the RCMP team of Cpl. Wagner (Errol Flynn) and his partner Col. Austin (John Ridgley). Wagner's parents emigrated from Germany, so he speaks German, which leads von Keller to try to gain Wagner's confidence. It actually seems to work: when Austin goes for backup, Wagner absconds with von Keller! Eventually the police catch up with Wagner, and he's belligerent enough with then to get kicked out of the Mounties and even face charges. The belligerence seems a bit too pat and contrived, however.

You'd be right for thinking that. Fairly quickly we find out that Wagner is actually still working for the Canadians, who want to use him to infiltrate the Nazi spies and find out what exactly they're up to. Of course, he can't tell anyone this, not even his fiancée Laura (Julie Bishop). She's about to find out up close, however, when the Nazis bring her into their group more or less as a hostage to keep Wagner from trying to foil the plot. And she can't escape, because the Nazis are going farther and farther north....

Northern Pursuit is an entertaining enough movie, although you're going to have to suspend a lot of disbelief to enjoy it. They get Canadian geography wrong, as well as the climate: a telegram dates the Nazi mission to August 1943 (even though an opening title card places the movie in 1941) yet has them going through the snows of Manitoba. More oddly, how did the Nazis get all that materiel to Northern Manitoba? And how did they do it without getting noticed? The movie also plays on the trope of the Nazis as too short-sighted to get out of their own way.

Overall, though, Northern Pursuit is a type example of the sort of morale booster Hollywood was churning out during World War II. There are better movies in the genre, but als0 many that are a lot worse. It's also available courtesy of the Warner Archive if you want to watch it.

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