Alfred HitchcockWorld War II
Aventure malgache
Also known as: Adventure in Madagascar
Medium: short film
Year: 1944
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writer: Jules Francois Clermont, Angus MacPhail
Keywords: World War II
Country: UK
Language: French
Actor: Paul Bonifas, Paul Clarus, Jean Dattas, Andre Frere, Guy Le Feuvre, Paulette Preney
Format: 30 minutes
Website category: Hitchcock
Review date: 23 January 2013
It's Hitchcock's second French-language propaganda short film from 1944, after Bon Voyage. Everyone says it was the less entertaining of the two and they're right.
I think its problem is that it's based on a true story. I don't say that to downplay the bravery of the real people involved, of course. They were resisting the Nazis. However I believe this film was written by someone (either Jules Francois Clermont or possibly Claude Dauphin) who was basing it on their real-life struggles against the Germans and the Vichy regime. Nothing wrong with that in principle. It could have been good. However in practice, such a scriptwriter might be liable to include scenes because they really happened rather than for any stronger dramatic reason. The story might thus seem to lack shape. One might sense a writer who's too close to the material and hadn't been asking themselves necessary questions.
That's the case here. There's a framing story with little reason to exist, unlike the apparently similar one in Bon Voyage. Three actors are chatting backstage and one of them starts talking about someone he knew in Madagascar. (The movie's title translates as Adventure in Madagascar, which is the modern name of the country then known as the Malagasy Republic. They changed the name in 1975, fifteen years after winning independence from the French Empire.)
Anyway, the reason for this film's framing story is because it's trying to cover a period of years in thirty minutes. We go from the start of the war to the Battle of Madagascar of 1942, in which the British freed the island from German control and were resisted by 8,000 Vichy troops.
There's plenty of interesting history here that we don't see, incidentally, although in fairness a 1944 propaganda film isn't where you'd expect to see it. The film mentions the Japanese, who were indeed the reason why the British attacked, but we don't see, for instance, Churchill's decision to exclude the Free French from the operation. (The failure at Dakar was a factor in his thinking there.)
The story involves a lawyer who pretends to be a Vichy supporter while really working for the Resistance... and, um, that's about it. He does Resistance stuff. People get captured by the enemy. Just as prominent are scenes that are simply keeping us appraised of then-current events, as if this were a dramatised documentary. The main thing one takes away from this film are some unwisely playful and/or accurate depictions of the French. I say "unwisely" because the Ministry of Information were unhappy with the results and put the film on ice for fifty years. Hitchcock might perhaps have been influenced by French bickering over Bon Voyage, which convinced him that the Resistance were anything but a united front. In this film, the French:
(a) dislike the British, talking about how they stole the West Indies and Canada from them. They don't even want to be saved from the Nazis by British forces, but unfortunately (in their eyes) it's the least worst option. Hitchcock really didn't get the idea of a "propaganda film", did he?
(b) will give the game away by running off to tell everything to their girlfriends.
(c) often support the Vichy regime.
The most atmospheric bit of the film is the stock footage sequence, reminding us that we're theoretically in Africa. I'd forgotten. There are a few black people in the film, but none of them get any dialogue. There are also no Nazis or Gestapo agents, which might have livened things up a bit. No one gets murdered. (Yes, I was shocked too.) The enemies are French and the worst thing that can happen is for someone to phone the Surete.
If feeling malevolent, one could even point out that the whole thing's just an actor's dressing room chat, so it's theoretically possible that even this is the sanitised version. This isn't a terrible film, but it's not particularly interesting either. It doesn't evoke Africa and it isn't exciting. It ends abruptly, with the English landing on the beach in 1942 and then... hey, that's it? The most interesting thing about it is arguably the extra-textual factor of watching Hitchcock veer ever further away from the simple-minded, reassuring fare you'd expect of a propaganda film into something that he should have known immediately would annoy the authorities.
I have nothing particularly against the film, but I didn't much like it either. I wouldn't order anyone not to watch it, but there's little reason to bother seeking it out.