Sunday, August 08, 2010

It Happened Here, by Kevin Brownlow

I was not surprised to read that Kevin Brownlow's 1966 It Happened Here (a documentary-style alternative-history film about Nazi-occupied Britain) was originally conceived as a Hammer-style horror film.  There is a scene toward end the which caused me to marvel, even as I watched it, at the use to which he was putting a traditional horror/thriller trope. 

If It Happened Here is to be thought of as a horror film, however, it is best thought of as kindred to such films as Fail-Safe, Dr. Strangelove, and maybe The Manchurian Candidate.  It is far less polished a film than any of these, though...there is not a trace of slickness in it.

It is remarkable in many respects:

  • It uses a great number of non-performers in crucial roles;
  • It recreates the look of the WWII years in Britain without using a single frame of stock footage;
  • It was conceived of by an 18-year-old (Brownlow) who enlisted a 16-year-old military expert (Andrew Mollo) to help him;
  • It employed real British Fascists to make a case against Jews in Britain and for euthanasia;
  • It was made for almost no money;
There is a story about the aformentioned scene filmed with British Fascists.  Jewish groups objected to those seven minutes of the film, causing the producers to excise them from the original release.  They were only restored 30 years later, when Brownlow regained control of the film.

This is not what I'd call an entertaining film.  It is sometimes hard to watch just for technical reasons (some muddy sound, for instance).  It is, however, a surprisingly rich film as I think about it.  The "documentary" style nicely parallels Italian Neo-Realism and the black-and-white photography and lighting puts Film Noir looks to fascinating use.

You should consider watching this film at least once.  I intend to watch it again.

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