49th Parallel (Film)

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49th Parallel, sometimes given as Forty-ninth Parallel: Ortus Films, United Kingdom. Michael Powell, Director; 35 mm., 11,070 ft. (3374.14 m.), 123 minutes. Film’s original music composed by Ralph Vaughn Williams. Released 8 October 1941. Released in the USA as The Invaders. In 2007 a restored high definition DVD of the film was released by Criterion Collection, New York City.

49th Parallel was developed both as an anti-isolationist propaganda work and a compelling wartime thriller. The plot, set in early in World War II, follows six fanatical Nazi survivors of a German submarine sunk in the Hudson Bay of Canada and their attempt to evade capture by traveling through Canada to the United States, which was still a neutral country. The title 49th Parallel comes from the latitude of 49°N which forms much of the border between the two countries. In their murderous trek south through Canada the Nazis encounter a range of people including a French-Canadian trapper, a pacifistic but unsympathetic German Hutterian Brethren colony, an eccentric English novelist and an AWOL Canadian soldier. During the trek all the Nazis are either killed or captured.

Though the film was wartime propaganda it achieved an intelligent and crucial balance between the Nazis' intimidating attributes and defects. The long set-piece pro-Hitler speech delivered by German Lieutenant Hirth played by Eric Portman to the German Hutterite members is a chilling tour de force. But Hirth has miscalculated his audience and is answered by an even more impressive anti-Nazi speech by Peter, the Hutterian leader played by Anton Walbrook, whose quiet but passionate delivery tempts the German submariner, Vogel, played by Niall MacGinnis to join the Hutterians. At first Vogel is just one of the six surviving Nazi submariners, but then he gradually distances himself from their excesses. Finally at the Hutterite settlement, where he has a taste of the kinds of Christian human interactions that otherwise would have no place in Nazi Germany, a return to his vocation of bread-making, and the love of a Hutterian woman he leaves his Nazi companions. Inevitably, when he tries to defect, he is executed.

Filming locations included a representative number of Canadian places including Banff and Niagara Falls and also the film company’s studio in Denham, England. The director Powell, while scouting locations in Canada, came upon Hutterians in Manitoba and incorporated them in this film. Filming of the outdoor scenes of the Hutterian Brethren was quite authentic for they were filmed at the Iberville Schmiedeleut Hutterite Colony at Elie, Manitoba. In addition to Walbrook the English actress Glynis Johns played Anna, a young Hutterian woman. The German Jewish actress Elisabeth Bergner was originally cast in the role of Anna. Initially the Hutterians were happy to assist with the filming until one day Bergner was spotted by a Hutterian woman smoking and painting her nails. Incensed, the Hutterian woman knocked the cigarette from Bergner's mouth with a slap in the face. Filming was halted until Michael Powell pleaded with the community to let them continue. Bergner was eventually replaced by the much younger Glynis Johns, although Bergner can be seen in some long shots. It also transpired that the main reason Bergner had joined the film was to get to America for as a German Jew living in England she felt that the Nazis were a little too close for comfort. The director Powell had to make peace with the community and with the outraged star. For the scene where the Hutterians listen to Eric Portman's impassioned pro-Nazi speech, the actors were all handpicked faces and it was filmed in the company’s set in Denham. Most of the Germans in the film were refugees from the Nazis.

49th Parallel, with its eloquent anti-Nazi message, fine photography and intelligent script was an artistic, financial and propaganda success. It was the highest grossing film in the UK in 1941, and the highest grossing British film up to that date in the USA. It was nominated for three Academy awards and in 1942 won for Best Story.


Berger, Elisabeth. Bewundert viel und viel gescholten: unordentliche Erinnerungen. München, Germany. Bertelsmann Verlag, 1978.

The Powell & Pressburg Pages http://www.powell-pressburger.org/Reviews/41_49P [Accessed on 28 April 2011]

Additional Information

Internet Movie Database entry

Author(s) Victor Wiebe
Date Published May 2011

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MLA style

Wiebe, Victor. "49th Parallel (Film)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. May 2011. Web. 5 Aug 2021. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=49th_Parallel_(Film)&oldid=171372.

APA style

Wiebe, Victor. (May 2011). 49th Parallel (Film). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 5 August 2021, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=49th_Parallel_(Film)&oldid=171372.

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