Alfred Hitchcock’s war panic era, which has produced its fair share of less-than-compelling motion pictures, culminates with Bon Voyage and Aventure Malgache. The two pictures are 1944 shorts and are hardly ever discussed as part of the filmmaker’s oeuvre, even if they do prove instructive as to his attitude at the time of World War II and his insistence on doing something for the effort of the Allies.
Both movies were made by Hitch for the British Ministry of Information’s production company and both were made in French, a language the director actually spoke well. The plan was initially for Hitchcock to head to Britain in 1942 to create these pictures, but producer David O. Selznick took over a year to release him. Once the filmmaker finally arrived, he was put to work on lifting the spirits of the French Resistance.
Bon Voyage features John Blythe as a Scottish airman who has escaped from a prisoner-of-war camp. He arrives in London and tells his French colonel exactly how he managed to get out of occupied France. His tale turns out to be a little faulty, as the fellow prisoner he took to be his friend isn’t who he thinks. The revelation is made using the device of telling the same story from separate angles, not like Rashomon.
Aventure Malgache tells a slightly comic story of a group of French actors preparing for a play. Paul Clarus, playing a version of himself, discusses the matter of pretending loyalty to a Vichy official and running a pro-Resistance radio station. His tale is one of loyalty to the French Resistance, of course, but we also learn the truth about the Vichy official in the process.
Of the two shorts, Bon Voyage is the better picture. Aventure Malgache evidently wasn’t even released at the time, although it’s available on home video now (and in a few locations online). Bon Voyage features more Hitchcockian touches and is actually quite thrilling in places. Much of the film seems to centre around getting over cultural differences to focus on the greater good.
This point was also made in Lifeboat, with Hitchcock telling a tale of Communists and even Capitalists uniting in the face of the great German terror, but here he’s directing his message of unity at the Europeans. Bon Voyage is filled with references to language and even to brands of cigarettes, with one character’s great “tell” being that he smoked an English brand in the wrong kind of bar.
Bon Voyage also deals in the concept of “the enemy” by proclaiming his or her ability to be anywhere and anyone. The idea of vigilance sweeps home here, with the soldier being conned by a man he believed to be a friend. A closing shot of Jeanne’s face when she realizes the cold truth is also chilling in its revelation that the enemy has no moral compass.
Aventure Malgache is more comic but less entertaining. “It may not help you to share these heroic times with the French people,” begins a title card, “but it does show how the spirit animated even the furthest colonies.” This short may or may not be based on the real-life adventures of Jules François Clermont, who also wrote the film and turns up as Paul Clarus (playing “himself”). Confused yet?
It’s hard to argue the general goodness of either film from a cinematic standpoint, but they do prove interesting from a historical standpoint. Bon Voyage and Aventure Malgache, along with the likes of Saboteur and Foreign Correspondent, show how deep and wide the war machine runs – even if it does run for the good guys. The Allies had their own messages to send and Hitchcock was one of many directors pressed into its service.
Of course, Hitch wasn’t forced to make these pictures. He wanted to contribute something to the war effort, but wasn’t able to do something more physical. As such, his artistic contributions were made in the form of these two shorts. In 1945, he would make another more devastating contribution in the form of serving as a “treatment advisor” to Memory of the Camps, a Sidney Bernstein piece on the horrors of the newly-revealed concentration camps.