Alfred HitchcockWorld War II
Bon Voyage
Medium: short film
Year: 1944
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writer: Angus MacPhail, J.O.C. Orton
Keywords: World War II
Country: UK
Language: French
Actor: John Blythe
Format: 26 minutes
Website category: Hitchcock
Review date: 17 January 2013
It's one of Hitchcock's two French-language propaganda mini-films, both made for the British Ministry of Information in 1944. The other's Aventure malgache. They don't have a great reputation and it took until 1993 for them both to reach cinemas, but I quite liked this one.
Apart from the cinematography, it's an old TV episode, essentially. An RAF pilot (John Blythe) has escaped from German-occupied France and is being interviewed about what happened. He tells his story, but then the espionage officer he's talking to tells his own story back to him, with a few twists. There were things Blythe didn't know.
It's not the most gripping plot in the world, mind you. It's got a framing story and all the action is merely reported events in the past. We know that Blythe's going to end up in London. However there's Rashomon-like unreliable narration and everything's sufficiently murky in a characteristically Hitchcock way that the film's a failure as propaganda. The authorities weren't happy, so the film was deemed "inflammatory" and shelved for decades.
Nothing is clear-cut. The shadows grow and grow, until eventually we're watching a murder in near-darkness with a beam of light dividing killer and victim. Our hero might be a patsy. Most of the film feels like a standard wartime runaround, but the final death is kind of chilling.
There's not much to talk about, really. It's entertaining. By all accounts it's also better than its companion film, Adventure Malgache. Blythe's French is good (and apparently French-speakers say he has a cute accent), but everyone else in the cast was French. They were credited collectively as "The Moliere Players" to protect their families from the Nazis. Curiously enough, this appears to have been Blythe's first acting work, but he then stayed in the business for another 45 years. You couldn't possibly call him an A-lister, but he seems to have worked steadily enough and was on Hancock's Half Hour, Dixon of Dock Green and The Russ Abbot Show. I liked him.
I liked the tall, strong-faced girl, by the way. She's not stereotypically pretty, but she's someone you look at. She has an appealing smile, which helps. Oh, and for once there's no Hitchcock cameo on-screen, either in this or Aventure malgache.
It ends abruptly. Eh? That was it? I'd say it's still worth a spin, though. Don't break your neck over it, but it's available legally for free on the Internet Archive and it's only 26 minutes long. It takes a bit of time to get going, but by the end its Hitchcockiness has overwhelmed any value it might have had as propaganda. Aventure malagache then went even further in the "guaranteed to annoy the authorities" stakes, although it's also a less entertaining film. (This is ironic as Hitchcock had long been keen to contribute to the war effort, but had been tied to California by his contract with David O. Selznick.) Bon Voyage though eventually gets ambiguous and dark, with Hitchcock killings. That's worth a look, surely?