'Went the Day Well?' commences as a slow burn, with picturesque images of a charming country town named Bramley End. As a large group of British soldiers arrive upon the peaceful village, they are gladly welcomed by the cheerful townspeople, who suspect nothing and make small talk about the ongoing war effort on the Continent. This is a quaint place, surrounded by the quiet beauty of nature, where everyone knows each other, and the worst criminal is an older man hunting rabbit. The only bit of excitement expressed by the locals is for the wedding of two childhood sweethearts, but as the story progresses and the regiment is revealed to be a fifth column making preparations for a Nazi occupation, it's easy to see where the filmmakers are going.
This sort of clandestine assault can happen anywhere and at any time, even in the seemingly insignificant, far-off rural communities of England. The film from Ealing Studios is propaganda at its finest, an attempt to boost morale as well as inspire the nation to keep up the good fight against Hitler's armed forces. The largely forgotten war drama follows a simple story of self-sacrifice and ordinary citizens taking up the call to combat when faced with the Nazi menace in their own backyard. Civilians share the same will and courage as their militarized brethren, doing their duty to protect their homes and country. For 1942 British audiences, the fear and horror of such an invasion was all too real as rumors and threats of a German invasion persisted throughout.
'Went the Day Well?' is also a propaganda picture at its most impressively creative and visionary, thanks to the stylish direction of Alberto Cavalcanti and beautiful cinematography by Wilkie Cooper. Cavalcanti is both economical and efficient in the camerawork, moving the narrative along so as to keep the sense of excitement and peril high without losing the plot's emotional center. With Cooper's photography giving the proceedings a fascinating balance of intense lighting and heavy, gloomy shadows, the film brings a certain artistry to its political doctrine and ballyhoo. What would otherwise be seen as a potboiler of sheer sensationalism is really a passionate, skilled piece of work, one which displays the death of several characters as the simple fact of wartime life.
Equally interesting is the story being told in flashback, forecasting the downfall of Nazi Germany and the success of the Allies. It opens with a local villager in a churchyard, speaking directly to the audience and pointing to a memorial. He quickly discloses the story's end by explaining the site as the only bit of land the "Jerries" got a hold of. At once predicting the future while at the same time being set in the past, the filmmakers are clearly experimenting with the inherent power of the medium as a kind of envoy and lasting memorial in itself. They seem curious, if not already intuitive, of its rhetorical and persuasive potential to capture the imagination of the audience, possibly suggesting that one's bravery and death will not go in vain but serve as a tale that also inspires courage in others.
'Went the Day Well?' is a dazzling motion picture from Alberto Cavalcanti, filled with stirring excitement and a sense of urgency. Filmed at the height of the Second World War, the war picture is surprisingly dark as it envisions a "what-if" scenario where the Nazi invasion is a very real threat. The plot possesses clear aspirations to motivate and raise morale amongst its viewing audience — standard expressions of propaganda war films. But at the same time, the drama shows careful attention to detail with a great deal of artistry behind the camera. Today, the Ealing Studios production remains mostly unknown amongst cinephiles, which is a regrettable injustice. But hopefully, this latest Blu-ray release from Optimum Home Entertainment and Studio Canal will change that and correct such terrible wrongs.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The Ealing Studios classic war film, 'Went the Day Well?,' arrives to Blu-ray on a Region B locked, BD50 disc and imported from the United Kingdom. At startup, the disc goes straight to the main menu with a reproduction still of one of the movie's posters and music playing in the background.
'Went the Day Well?' arrives on Blu-ray with a terrific and marked improvement over the previous DVD release from Anchor Bay a few years back, which itself wasn't all that bad. This 1080p/VC-1 encode, however, is somewhat brighter and definitely cleaner without hindering any of the picture's finer aspects and showing a great deal of background info in the far distance.
Considering the film's vintage, several spots of softness are to be expected and quite noticeable throughout. Nevertheless, the 1.33:1 frame reveals excellent details in the architecture and foliage surrounding the quaint village. Textures in the clothing and the faces of actors are distinct and plainly visible. Interiors are also very well-defined and nicely delineated, even during poorly-lit sequences engulfed with deep, oppressive shadows. Contrast is crisp and spot-on while blacks are rich and true, providing the image with appreciable depth and dimensionality.
All in all, this is a wonderful video presentation for an unjustly forgotten war film.
In the audio department, the classic propaganda film arrives also with a good uncompressed PCM mono track.
Vocals are very well-prioritized and precise from beginning to end, though there are a couple negligible lines which seem a bit muddled during battle sequences. It's not really a troubling issue, however, only something worth mentioning. More apparent and of greater note is a limited and rather narrow dynamic range, which is none too surprising considering the age of the recording. The higher frequencies tend to clip and slightly distort, particularly in the explosions, and the low end is pretty much non-existent. Although the lossless mix feels a tad lacking in these minor areas, it still comes with a good sense of presence and a great deal of clarity.
This is a well done restoration and a fine complement to the high-def picture.
For this Blu-ray edition of 'Went the Day Well?,' Optimum and Studio Canal offer a paltry selection of bonus features.
'Went the Day Well?' is a remarkable 1942 film from Ealing Studios about a small English village occupied by a clandestine group of Nazi soldiers, and filmed at the height when such rumors persisted throughout the country. At once a propaganda picture meant to raise public morale, the war drama also shows a good deal of artistic talent by its director Alberto Cavalcanti and cinematographer Wilkie Cooper. The Blu-ray comes with a beautiful remastered video presentation and good audio, but the supplements are quite small. Nonetheless, the overall package is worthwhile for collectors and enthusiasts of classic war films.