Against the Wind (1948)
“They played macabre jokes – lively but deadly.”
Director: Charles Crichton
Cast: Robert Beatty, Simone Signoret, Jack Warner
Synopsis: British agents engage in hazardous duty behind German lines.
Against the Wind suffers from the inevitable lack of depth that will result from such a large number of characters having important parts to play in a story that is crammed into a relatively short running time. Too many of the characters are merely sketched in: relationships are tentatively formed, leading us to believe we are watching a major strand of the story, only to be abruptly terminated before we really begin to care. While unexpectedly broken relationships may happen in real life — and they certainly present the viewer with a couple of unexpected plot twists here — it’s somewhat jarring to see in a film.
The story is a little confusing initially, as most of these characters are thrown at us within the first ten minutes, with no real indication as to who are to be the principal characters and who will fall by the wayside. Thankfully, things do become clearer as the characters make themselves known to us, and the film manages to gather quite a head of steam once our secret agents parachute (in full daylight it seems) into occupied Belgium. As is to be expected, there is a traitor in their midst, the identity of whom may prove to be a surprise to British viewers even though there are a number of clues given early on. The scene in which he is unmasked should have been a dramatic highpoint but, for some reason, director Charles Crichton fails to create the level of tension the scene deserves. It’s the kind of moment Hitchcock could have worked wonders with but Crichton, who was perhaps more at home with comedy material, falters noticeably.
There are a number of good performances from a quite impressive cast: Simone Signoret, although appearing to have no neck when in uniform, succeeds as one of the film’s more sympathetic characters; Jack Warner (Hue and Cry, The Quatermass Xperiment) looks a little heavy for a special agent but provides a deceptively jovial character, while John Slater, who would later be Warner’s long-term colleague in TVs Dixon of Dock Green, also does well. Robert Beatty (49th Parallel, 2001: A Space Odyssey), Paul Dupuis, and a young Gordon Jackson (Seven Waves Away) also feature prominently. Crusty old James Robertson Justice (David and Bathsheba) — who isn’t actually that old in this one, but still manages to be quite crusty — plays one of those special agent boss types who never leaves his office.
Against the Wind provides some solid entertainment while failing to be quite as exciting as it is obviously trying to be, and provides enough twists to keep most people satisfied. And, of course, any film that has exploding horse dung has to be worth a look.
(Reviewed 8th October 2005)