Tonight We Raid Calais (1943)
Serving as a propaganda film from 20th Century Fox during the war years, this John Brahm directed thriller is just that. A thriller!
John Sutton is elected by his superiors in the British forces to land on the shores of France and infiltrate a small village to locate and help destroy a factory that the Germans are using to manufacture artillery shells for cannons. Once landing and escaping a skirmish with German forces he takes refuge in a barn only to witness Howard Da Silva as a German soldier pressuring Annabella to meet him later that night. He hangs the threat of death over her family if she does not oblige.
By morning Sutton will be discovered in the barn by Annabella and her parents, Lee J. Cobb and Beulah Bondi. Cobb quickly realizes the importance of Sutton’s being in his village and when it turns out that Sutton’s contact has already been killed, Cobb steps up to do his patriotic part. It’s Annabella who wants nothing to do with the English agent. She’d rather turn him in and reap the rewards that the Nazi’s would bestow upon her starving family.
Annabella’s anger at Sutton leads to an opportunity for the scriptwriter to allow Sutton his patriotic speech. He implores her for “the will to resist” and to join “the spirit of the people who love freedom.” Sutton meanwhile walks the village streets under the guise of being Cobb’s returning son but the Nazi’s are not so sure and Da Silva believes Sutton to be the agent that has left two soldiers dead and is currently hiding in the area. He sets out to prove to his superior that is just the case. While he goes about his job, Sutton is trying to find the underground factory so he can ensure that incoming planes lay siege to the proper target area.
Da Silva makes good on his promise which leads to the arrests of Cobb and Bondi. They have been harboring an enemy of the German forces. Annabella is about to find out that putting her faith in the promises of Da Silva’s commanding officer is ultimately a grave mistake in a scene that might be tame by today’s standards but surely caused audiences of ’43 to either cry out in anger or perhaps just hang there heads and cry. I won’t spoil it but it still retains a certain amount of power all these years later.
Sutton will have to battle through the enemy and rouse some of the villagers to do what needs done in fighting the enemy on their own home front. It’s a rousing finale that sees the women of the village fighting alongside Sutton as opposed to the men. I think that’s key in part of the message the movie tried to convey to audiences of the times. The Germans are of course suitably villainous yet history would show the atrocities in the film are tame by any standards to what the truth would actually reveal by the time they surrendered.
Keeping in mind this was a propaganda film, it still offers a thrilling adventure where good is meant to conquer evil. It’s highlighted by a solid cast and story line that apart from a tacky ending even by 1940 standards, still plays well. Like many features of the day, the closing credits remind one and all to buy U.S. War Bonds.
This was my first viewing and one I can recommend to all.