Contraband, 1940

aka 'Blackout'

Directed by Michael Powell

Screenplay by Emeric Pressburger, Michael Powell, Brock Williams

On hearing a report that Mrs. Sorensen (Valerie Hobson) refuses to wear a life jacket onboard as ordered by the ships captain (Conrad Veidt):

Captain Anderson: "When I saw her come aboard, I knew we were in for trouble."

Crewman: "Did you, sir?"

Captain Anderson: "Not that I don't like them that way."

In the World War II drama Contraband, in a rare 'hero' role, Conrad Veidt is a Danish sea captain who is stopped by the Royal Navy en route for Rotterdam in the Netherlands, and while held up by red tape at port, two of his passengers sneak ashore to London using his stolen landing passes.

Veidt follows in hot pursuit, determined to bring both back aboard, and also because he has more than a passing interest in the passenger "Mrs. Sorensen" (played by Hobson).

The film title 'Contraband' refers to the definition of freight on ships getting past the Allied embargo and ending up in the hands of the German enemy.

As he moves about London, Veidt soon finding himself up to his neck in German spies. Veidt's Captain Andersen enlists help from a group of Danish waiters from a restaurant run by a brother to one of his ships crewmen. Soon these Danes are chasing all over the blacked-out landscape of nighttime London, but they don't really know why they're getting into brawls and charging from one night-club to another. Veidt is hunting for the kidnapped Mrs. Sorensen, and Andersen gets the Danes to help by telling them "if you're all Danes, you don't need a reason for fighting."

The direction and story from Michael Powell has what looks like to our modern eyes 'Hitchcockian elements' in the circumstances these characters find themselves tangled into, such as imprisonments, double-identities, escapes, and inky dark shadows obscuring the situations.

Director Powell includes a great deal of humor in the proceedings, and Veidt seems to relish the unusual chance to grimace and provide his suave line readings for the Allied team fighting the nazis, which in reality had driven him out of his native Germany in 1933 under the threat of death for his politically incorrect attitudes.

Conrad Veidt is best known for his sneering nazi role of Major Strasser in the Bogart-Bergman Casablanca (1942), but Veidt had a long career before that (for example, he's the sleepwalker Cesare in the original 1920 Cabinet of Dr. Caligari). Altogether, Veidt appeared in 118 films before his death in 1943 from a heart attack.

Valerie Hobson is probably most famous in America for being the human bride of Doc Frankenstein in James Whale's Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and for a variety of British films (such as the Alec Guinness black comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets). "Bride" was an early part and was followed with other similar secondary wife roles before she quit Hollywood in frustration and returned to England for the remainder of her career of over 50 films.

Kino Sells a DVD of the film Contraband through

Original Page Aug 2011 | Updated June 2014

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