Powell and Pressburger make some of the best English-language films we’ve seen. But their wartime propaganda films are among the most, lets say, controversial we’ve discussed. Was Colonel Blimp a good movie? Maybe. Did it have among the worst morals we’ve seen in any film in the Collection? Almost certainly. But A Canterbury Tale combines the terribleness of The Archers’ wartime morality with a movie that is just not that good plot-wise. To the point where Adam argues that maybe the simplicity and idiocy of the plot is hint that the moral of the film is simplistic and idiotic and Powell and Pressburger know it. Here’s hoping.
We're combining two films this week, in part because they are the first two chapters of a planned trilogy (wikipedia even lists them as one film) and in part because one of the films does not exist as it's own proper Spine number in the Criterion Collection.
Sergei Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible (Part I 1944 and Part II 1958) is an historical epic about Josef Stalin's favorite Czar, and an early unifier of all of Russia, or all the Russias, as the case may be. The first film I'm sure Stalin loved as it paints Ivan as a strong leader with clear Stalinesque parallels. The second dives into the man's troubles and violent treatment of just about everyone he could treat violently, and Stalin stopped appreciating the comparison. Which is why the Part II wasn't released until five years after Stalin's death (and, sadly, ten years after Eisenstein's).
Laurence Olivier's 1944 propagandist (at the behest of Churchill himself) adaptation of Henry V is not only Olivier's first film directorial, it's also the first time in film history that an adaptation of one of Shakespeare's plays actually made money. It was nominated for four Academy Awards but only managed to garner Olivier an Honorary Oscar for "for his outstanding achievement as actor, producer and director in bringing Henry V to the screen." Honorary Oscars are, as you know, even more masturbatory than real Oscars, though that doesn't lessen Olivier's feat here. It's a fine production with a lot of smart choices behind it. If only Pat and Adam could make it through a Shakespearean History without losing focus.