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Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Classic Film Review: Odette (1950)

Based on a true story, Odette is the story of Odette Sanson, a special agent sent undercover into France during WWII. Given the fact that the film is endorsed by the real Odette, it can be seen to be a fairly accurate representation of her time in France. Anna Neagle stars as Odette with Trevor Howard as Peter Churchill and Peter Ustinov as Alex Rabinovich.

I was astonished by Anna Neagle's performance in this film. Having only previously seen her in Irene (1940, reviewed here), I wasn't sure if this type of meaty dramatic role was for her. However, she really did the part justice from the moment Odette says goodbye to her children onwards. There are some exceptional scenes scattered throughout with only the slightest drifts into melodrama. The torture scenes were very well-handled and the snippets of time passing through the war and how Odette's life altered - or didn't - through the later months. One peculiarly affecting scene came towards the end when a Nazi guard is begging Odette to tell her what to do because the Americans are coming.

Trevor Howard is solid, not detracting from Neagle's central performance, but their romance feels shoehorned into it - despite the fact that Odette and Peter married in real life! The other star of this is Peter Ustinov as radio operator Alex. Although his is a relatively minor role, he instils it with much life, especially in the scene where he quietly demands to be sent back to France to help his friends. It's mentioned at the very beginning of the film that he was executed soon afterwards, captured as he parachuted back into France.

This is a bleak film which deserves credit for the unflinching representation of the conditions people such as Odette were kept in. It also looks authentic and the acting is near flawless. There are a few moments of humour peppered within the piece to lighten the tone occasionally but, for the most part, it is a difficult one to watch. What I was left with was an overwhelming sense of awe for what Odette went through during her time as a secret agent. From her portrayal, I think Anna Neagle felt this too. A delicate yet commanding performance from a talented woman.

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