Not so Yellow Neagle
I've watched a fair few of what are commonly known as WWII propaganda movies, those put out during to either inform or inspire a nation, and whilst most have been interesting not so many have still been entertaining, understandably suffering from being dated. "Yellow Canary" is different because rather than just being a less than subtle propaganda movie it is also a thriller and one which is still thrilling now. It still has that wartime message with a story about Nazi sympathisers and agents but it is a lot more subtle, more part of the story than a message tagged on to the end.
After a visit to Germany Sally Maitland (Anna Neagle - They Flew Alone) is labelled a Nazi sympathiser and not only finds herself getting disapproving looks where ever she goes, including from her family but finds herself being forced to leave England. Placed on a boat heading for Halifax, Canada she finds herself with two men bidding for her time, Polish Captain Jan Orlock (Albert Lieven) who is heading to Halifax to see his sick mother and Jimmy Garrick (RRichard Greene - The Little Princess), a secret service agent placed aboard the ship to keep an eye on her. The question is, is all as it seems and what about the other passengers which include the opinionated Mrs. Towcester (Margaret Rutherford)?
The good thing about "Yellow Canary" is unlike many movies which come under the label of being propaganda movies it still works and that is purely down to it being a spy thriller. It is no spoiler if I tell you that Sally Maitland isn't what she seems because there is no way that Anna Neagle would be cast as a villain but sensing that makes it more interesting. We have the intriguing opening where we see Sally appearing to be signalling to the German bombers as they fly over London and then we have the element of her being a notorious sympathiser, stared at and spoken about when ever she enters a room. It makes Sally an interesting character because whilst you can assume that she is not what she first appears you do wonder what she is.
But in a way that is the key to the success of "Yellow Canary" knowing that anyone we meet may not be what they appear. So when we meet Mrs. Towcester we wonder what her connection is especially in a scene when the boat reaches Halifax and a couple of things happen to cause us to wonder what she is up to. And then there are the men, the handsome Garrick and the serious Polish Captain Jan Orlock, we know that Garrick is a secret agent, but we wonder if he is an agent or a double agent and Orlock seems intent on being by Sally's side all the time, why?
The irony of this is that the outcome to all this won't be a huge surprise and if I say that some Nazi plans are uncovered it won't be a spoiler but those plans end up pretty unimportant. The whole purpose of "Yellow Canary" is the discovery of who is who and not what the Nazi's are planning. There is of course the propaganda side to all this and we have a mix of subtle and less subtle messages when it comes to loose tongues cost lives, yes this is a movie which basically tells us to be wary of everyone.
Now when it comes to performances "Yellow Canary" is Anna Neagle's movie, her performance as Sally Maitland is spot on and whilst you sense quickly she is not what she seems Neagle gets across the sense of personal conflict in what she does. The rest of the performances especially that from Richard Greene as Lieutenant Commander Jim Garrick is what I call typical 1940s acting, with him being charming and slightly cheeky. That leads me to the movies one wrong step, a romantic scene which makes no sense when it comes to the characters and what they have been through.
What this all boils down to is that despite being 70 years old "Yellow Canary" is still a pretty decent wartime thriller. Certain aspects of it are obvious and it makes one big mistake but it does keep you guessing as to who the good guys and bad guys are because you are never 100% sure.