Contraband (1940 film)

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Contraband poster.jpg
Poster from trade screening 20 March 1940
Directed by Michael Powell
Produced by John Corfield
Written by Story & Screenplay:
Emeric Pressburger
Michael Powell
Brock Williams
Starring Conrad Veidt
Valerie Hobson
Music by Richard Addinsell
John Greenwood
Direction, Muir Mathieson
Cinematography Freddie Young
Edited by John Seabourne
Distributed by Anglo-American
Release dates 11 May 1940 (UK)
29 November (US)
Running time 92 min. (UK)
80 min. (US)
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget £47,000 (est.)

Contraband (1940) is a wartime spy film by the British director-writer team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, which brought stars Conrad Veidt and Valerie Hobson together again after their success in The Spy in Black the previous year.

The title of the film in the United States was Blackout. Powell is quoted in his autobiography, A Life in Movies, that the US renaming was a better title and he wished he'd thought of it.

Many people find it refreshing to see Conrad Veidt playing a hero character; something he was not allowed to do very often. There is also an early uncredited performance by Leo Genn.


Danish Captain Andersen (Conrad Veidt) is stopped for a cargo inspection in a British Contraband Control Port in the first year of World War II, before Denmark has been occupied by the Germans. He gets some shore passes for himself and his First Officer but they are stolen by passengers Mrs. Sorensen (Valerie Hobson) and Mr. Pidgeon (Esmond Knight) who take a boat and go ashore. Capt. Andersen decides to follow them and the journey takes them through blacked-out London and to various strange characters and adventures.


Cast notes

Also making their screen debut were director Michael Powell's golden cocker spaniels, Erik and Spangle, who went on to appear in the Powell and Pressburger films The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), I Know Where I'm Going! (1945) and A Matter of Life and Death, also known as Stairway to Heaven (1946).[2]


Contraband was intended as a followup to Powell and Pressburger's The Spy in Black, which was filmed at the end of 1938, but was not released by Alexander Korda for almost a year.[3] The current film was in production from 16 December 1939 through 27 January 1940 [4] at Denham Film Studios, with location shooting in London at Chester Square in Belgravia, and in Ramsgate in Kent.[5]

Critical reaction[edit]

"An odd little comic thriller - who, except perhaps Michael Powell, would cast 47-year-old Cabinet of Dr. Caligari star Conrad Veidt as a light romantic hero?" - TV Guide online review.[6]
"Less stylish than The Spy in Black, this espionage thriller is more fun, with its tongue-in-cheek plot revelling in Hitchcockian eccentricities" - Time Out.
"A neat Second World War espionage thriller that depicts a London crawling with spies" - Radio Times.


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