Patriotic World War II thriller based on a discomforting Graham Greene story that asks: what would happen if the Nazis took over a small English village?
Went The Day Well? is first and foremost a propaganda piece, a morale boosting piece of German bashing with an educational warning about the dangers of quislings and Fifth Columnists. Fortunately, it’s of more than mere historical interest thanks to some well-paced action, enthusiastic acting and the influence of Graham Greene’s dark imagination
Bramley End is “a pretty little place”, a stereotypical English village with a 13th century church, a manor house, a village shop that doubles as a telephone exchange and not much else other than a few thatched cottages. The narrator introducing the film (speaking from the future) admits that “people would think that you were a bit weak in the upper storey” if you told them that a battle had been fought there and more than 40 Germans had died.
Rather unfeasibly, as the film heads back in time, the German paratroopers roll into the village, fully equipped with British uniforms, trucks, weapons and perfect regional accents. They convince everyone that they are carrying out exercises, and they’re quickly billeted in the patriotic villagers’ houses. The Kommandant (Sydney) makes contact with the treacherous village squire Oliver Wilsford (a suitably pompous and cold-eyed Leslie Banks), who shows him the village’s defence structure and how best to dupe the others.
All seems to be going well until the not-so-dozy villagers begin to notice odd things about the troops. Why does their corporal take such sadistic pleasure in bullying a small boy? Isn’t that “behaving like a German?”. And why are they carrying bars of chocolate around with them that have “Chokolade Wien” written on them. Realising that he’s about to be rumbled the Kommandant locks the villagers in the church, shoots the vicar at point blank range when he tries to raise the alarm, and has the home guard murdered as they cycle home from carrying out their exercises. Of course, the plucky villagers won’t be subdued that easily and they quickly begin to plot against their captors, leading the film on to a tense, uncomfortable and at times bracingly violent conclusion.
The British home guardsmen and most of the German soldiers seen in the film were real military men, drawn from the ranks of a Gloucestershire Regiment.
I ask nothing. I give you my orders. – Kommandant Orlter (Basil Sydney) lays down the law.
Leslie Banks as Oliver Wilsford
Mervyn Johns as Charles Sims
Marie Lohr as Mrs Fraser
Basil Sydney as Major Hammond / Kommandant Orlter
Edward Rigby as Bill Purvis
C. V. France as The Vicar
Valerie Taylor as Nora
Norman Pierce as Jim Sturry
Frank Lawton as Tom Sturry
Muriel George as Mrs. Collins
Elizabeth Allan as Peggy
Thora Hird as Ivy
Patricia Hayes as Daisy
Hilda Bayley as Cousin Maud
Johnny Schofield as Joe Garbett
Ellis Irving as Harry Drew
Philippa Hiatt as Mrs. Bates
Grace Arnold as Mrs. Owen
David Farrar as Lieutenant Jung
John Slater as Sergeant
Eric Micklewood as Soldier
Director: Alberto Cavalcanti
Producer: Michael Balcon
Photographer: Wilkie Cooper
Composer: William Walton
Script: John Dighton, Angus Macphail, Diana Morgan, Graham Greene
UK | Ealing | 88 minutes | 1942