The ultimate homeland security thriller

Imagine a country with a homeland security agenda bent on inspiring can-do bravery in its good citizens (instead of, say, impotent fear and loathing) and you’ve got Britain circa 1942. Went the Day Well? (newly available on DVD) is maybe the most perfect expression of a particular sort of patriotic wartime Britishness.

Based on a Graham Greene short story, Went chronicles the arrival, in a quaint village called Bramley End, of British troops. Only they’re not British troops — they’re undercover Germans who speak perfect English, arrived to set the stage for an invasion, as the villagers gradually realize.

That’s when this film about almost absurdly cheerful, kindly townsfolk suddenly shifts into a brutal thriller. But being British, the absurdly cheerful, kindly townsfolk retain their absurdly cheerful kindliness even as they devote themselves to outsmarting Nazis. In one fantastic, proto-feminist scene, two of the town’s loveliest ladies become impromptu snipers.

It was produced by Ealing Studios, the legendary comedy factory (Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Lavender Hill Mob).

And it’s perhaps the most oddly charming wartime propaganda film ever made.

BUY Went the Day Well? (Anchor Bay; originally released theatrically in Britain in 1942, and in 1944 in the U.S. under the title 48 Hours; black-and-white, 93 minutes)

This post is from Observer Short List—an email of three favorite things from people you want to know. Sign up to receive OSL here.

The ultimate homeland security thriller