Edge of Darkness (1943)

Edge of Darkness (1943) is a Nazi-heavy Norwegian war romp with more dead bodies in its opening few minutes than you could shake any number of Nazi pointing devices at, assuming your Nazi pointing devices were not too busy pointing things out on your incredibly detailed Nazi models of Norwegian villages, strategic or otherwise.

The alternative title for this amazing war effort is Norway In Revolt, which does sum things up in a manner of speaking.

And once viewers have overcome the surprise of the many piles of dead bodies, piled across other dead bodies, piled inside and outside in mounds and heaps which would seem utterly infeasible, had the bodies once supposed to have been alive, there is a fairly exciting, fairly tepid, and at times pleasantly complex film awaiting, promising not just Errol Flynn, but more critically than this, Ann Sheridan.

Yes, you can come for the piles of bodies or the Norwegian models, or the overtly evil and ridiculous Nazis, but it turns out that only Ann Sheridan is worth the wait.

And so to return to these dead bodies, and study their arrangement and tone in more detail, a few small detours and examinations must be made.

And possibly with a content warning, oh yes, because never were the corpses piled so high, and never were they more artfully arraigned; and never, not until the high gore of the 1980s, was there to be seen such a set designed of splayed, laid, fallen, angled, bungled, reposed, spread, planted and deposited actors-playing dead.

It's baffling. It's a real case of overkill; if that is not too strenuous a noun to be in use at this time.

It is perhaps suggestive of mystery, or perhaps it is a poor effort at depicting the horrors of war as best one can, by simply and repeatedly having many, many extras drape them selves across multiple sets, as the camera gravely traverses.

What is most incredible about these play-dead extras, is that it is impossible top imagine how the people they were expected to represent, all died.

From room to deadly and exhausting room it continues, with the heaps of bodies becoming more extravagant, and with everyone set, director Lewis Milestone included, non-complaining about the final mis-en-scene.

Both within and without the camera makes what finally becomes an ultimately dreary journey through the horror, where everywhere is found crazier mounds, batches, bundles and gobs of cadavers; inside the village's little rooms; and outwith in the streets and docks.

All will be revealed however, but not until the Nazis have displayed their main masterly evil tool of world domination which is the model village. Because somebody in props, as well as having a keen interest in piling up the extras, had a hard-on for modelling too.

Which is what the Nazis use, whenever they can. A map is fine, but of course the Allies and the Norwegian resistance have maps. Thinking in three dimensions with fantastic detail, down to the slate roofs and scrub, the Nazis are going to win this war with their precision modelling. 

Which it is fair to say, the filmmakers make fair use of as well. 

The model also has model dead bodies, to replicate the fake real dead bodies, played by extras, who populate the patronisingly named Norwegian settlement of Trollness. Thank you to whomever thought that name up.

Nazi business as usual is taken care of in traditional 1940s style. The great thing about this and the many other film noir / Nazi crossover propaganda films, is that the propaganda is nice and easy; it's never been more straightforward.

In our lifetimes our countries have been at war with various regimes, but not since World War 2 did we instantly start making ridiculing propaganda about our opponents, stripping them of dignity, and painting them all-pure stupid and evil. This was in fact great sport in the 1940s, pre-war (as in Confessions of a Nazi Spy, 1939), mid-war (as here) or any old time after the war.

It is a peculiar kind of joy to feel that this very filmmaking was going on contiguous with the War itself, and although in its plainest sense it is propaganda, in another sense it is not. It's not propaganda because film, and film noir, requires a villain, and a Nazi is as good as any other. 

And then there is the fact that we normally expect propaganda to have a subtilizing flavour to it, and almost under-the-radar quality, which no Hollywood anti-Nazi film of the 1940s does. The Nazis are treated as bad as any idiotic hood, and it would seem that every camp, glove-slapping, barking-mad stereotype of the typical Nazi, still favoured to this very day, was operational and hit the ground running, the very day that World War 2 begun.

You might have never seen so many dead bodies in a film, as you will see in Edge of Darkness (1943). Strewn on the streets and over the walls and windows and rooftops of the enormously fictional Norwegian village of Trollness, is corpse after corpse, now witnessed by some slightly spooked Nazis and a local raving madman. The madman is shot because the Nazis don't care about anyone, and certainly don't like listening to irrational people.

But otherwise, we and of course they are faced with the heroic antics of Errol Flynn, who is a delight to see on screen, but maybe not cut out for playing a Norwegian; and maybe not cut out for playing a lowly fisherman; and maybe not cut out for playing a shady resistance fighter.

Thank God he and we have Ann Sheridan! Thank God.

Our story in brief, attempts a few tales at once, some of which are muddied by the Nazi overacting and overkill. The models are nice, but they don't help the viewer, but it is pleasing to think that somebody had the fun job of making them. Even if we are supposed to consider that somewhere, there is a Nazi Department of Modelmaking; there to serve each division in each conquered European country.

Beginning in the quaintly, faintly ridiculous Norwegian fishing village of Trollness, which is occupied by the Nazis, the Norwegian flag is observed flying high over the town by a passing patrol aircraft. This patrol craft is of course fully equipped with World War 2 tech; including a notebook which lists all the countries that the Nazis now occupy.

Anyway, this flag is of course not allowed and theGerman troops sent to investigate discover that everyone in the village is dead, both German and Norwegian, including the German commander, Captain Koenig, in his office.

This is the dead bodies bit, and simply must be warned against. Nobody, not even in war noir, wants to see so many extras lying so still, all at once.

Heading into flashback, we commence the first proper tip of the hat to the film noir style, as our mystery unfolds. Previously, it turns out, the local doctor, Martin Stensgard (Walter Huston) and his wife (Ruth Gordon) wanted to hold on to the pretence of gracious living and ignore the occupiers. The doctor would also prefer to stay neutral, but is torn. 

Kaspar Torgersen (Charles Dingle), his brother-in-law, the wealthy owner of the local fish cannery, collaborates with the Nazis, and so there is of course a little Trollness trolling to be achieved here. The doctor's daughter, Karen (Ann Sheridan), is involved with the resistance and is in a romantic relationship with its leader Gunnar Brogge (Errol Flynn). 

Johann (John Beal), the doctor's son, has just returned to town having been sent down from the university but is soon influenced by his Nazi-sympathizer uncle. Karen makes it known to the townsfolk that her brother is a "quisling".

The key group of resistance members, headed by Gunnar and Karen, anxiously await the secret arrival of arms from an English submarine. They hide the delivery of weapons in a cellar and call upon the townsfolk to delay violence until the opportune moment. 

Karen, on her way to a resistance meeting, is grabbed by a German soldier and disappears, while Gunnar frantically searches the town for her. She eventually appears at the meeting, clothes torn and face bruised, indicative that she has been raped. Gunnar loses his shit after seeing what the Germans have done to the woman he loves and decides upon a crazed rampage as the best plan, ordering that the fighting begin. Karen tells him that it is still not yet the time and as he calms down, the radio (which has only been broadcasting static for a week) finally picks up Churchill's broadcast from England, giving them all hope.

Hooray! There will be no revenge today.

Karen's father leaves the meeting and bludgeons a German soldier to death which is a great move however, and just the sort of trolling you'd expect from a Trollness citizen. Captain Koenig orders the suspected resistance leaders to be shot. On the morning of their execution they are forced to dig their own graves in the town square. They hear singing and discover the townsfolk have armed themselves with the smuggled guns, grenades and other weaponry. The local pastor, who previously had called violent resistance "murder," opens fire from the church tower and the townsfolk follow suit. They successfully capture the port, and load the women and children onto fishing boats bound for England. 

At the local hotel, which has been used since the occupation as German headquarters, the remaining soldiers prepare for the oncoming attack. Gunnar, Karen, her father, and the other resistance leaders and members make their way through the forest toward the hotel. 

Karen's brother cries to them from the hotel that they are walking into a machine gun crossfire trap set by the commander. He is shot dead for his efforts by the Germans. After a bloody battle, the rebels eventually capture the hotel and Captain Koenig commits suicide after writing a letter to his brother.

The story then reverts to the newly arrived German troops finding the dead bodies of both Germans and Norwegians littered about the town, forest and hotel. They declare that there is no one left alive. Karen and Gunnar, up in the hills, see a German soldier taking down the Norwegian flag and replacing it with a Nazi one. 

Karen shoots him dead and the Nazi flag falls on his dead body. Gunnar, Karen, her father and the surviving resistance members and townsfolk take shelter in the hills as the voice of President Franklin D. Roosevelt tells his listeners to look to Norway for understanding of the war and the hope and strength of the people.

And thus concludes one of the strangest war fables to ever grace the silver screen; a to-ing and fro-ing and at times quite slow meander through the horrors of a desperate occupation.

Of all its oddities, it is perhaps Errol Flynn who makes the least impression; which is a shame as he is staggering good looking. Curiously, though, this role as a resistance fighter against the Nazis was enough to have Edge of Darkness cited as definitely Eroll Flyn's  most communist (ish) movie.

This is not Film Noir, we are afraid to say.

We know that Edge of Darkness is not film noir, because it is low on paranoia. Despite there being Nazis, and war, and suspicious villagers, there is no paranoia factor in Edge of Darkness. If anything, the Nazis are a little disappointing, not always very frightening, even if they have a tendency to shoot old men.

When the drama rolls in Edge of Darkness, it does so methodically and with anything at all, a stab at the flavour of Douglas Sirk; but this is the flavour of Lewis Milestone. Not only is there no paranoia, but instead there is Newtonian logic, or as is this is war time it is more like Val Lewtonian moralising; the characters often have to work out their values in speeches and discussions around values.

None of this is even remotely tinged with psychology and in Edge of Darkness, this is sorely missed, as it would have added something quite considerable. So no, we are not in noir territory at all, despite the odd signpost that we might be. The title of the film Edge of Darkness might suggest to many a hot dollop of noir, but there ain't none here.

No psychology, no paranoia, no camera shots at even slightly skewed or jaunty angles; a whole lot of model boats and village mountainsides, many model trees and cabins; precious few shadows and even further gaps between mood lighting and cigarette smoke. Even despite there being a village quisling, a traitor to the Norwegian people, there isn't even any back-stabbing double-dealing malice that might spice up an otherwise excitingly titled film such as this.

Do not get this wrong. The models are fantastic, as is the mis en scene, and Errol Flynn is handsome to silly degrees in his fisherman's garb.

HOWEVER! True lovers of noir and of the deep paranoiac fault lines underlaying Hollywood's productions between 1940 and 1980, will be pleased to see Don Siegel surface in Edge of Darkness - here on the montage, as he liked to be be back then.

Good old montage - - by Don Siegel! 

I bet it was Don that piled up those bodies, that is all.

Dead Nazis!


A final look at the great mountain of Trollness:

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