Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Assignment in Brittany (1943)

Jean-Pierre Aumont and Susan Peters in Assignment in Brittany (1943)

After completing a dangerous mission in North Africa, Captain Pierre Metard (Jean-Pierre Aumont) is sent back to France for a new assignment. And this one is a doozy. Pierre happens to bear a striking resemblance to one Bertrand Corlay, a French Nazi collaborator who was injured and imprisoned by the British. Pierre receives a makeover to look exactly like Bertrand, complete with a fake birthmark on his back. His goal is to uncover the secret German submarine port before the Germans attack the French/British forces guarding the shore. When Pierre goes to Bertrand's home and assumes his identity he fools everyone except Bertrand's mother Mme. Corlay (Margaret Wycherly). She's on to him but allows him to proceed with his mission. Pierre meets with Bertrand's fiancee Anne Pinot (Susan Peters) a deeply religious woman who was never in love with Bertrand but was still upset to find out he had a mistress. And that woman is Elise (Signe Hasso), a woman of questionable morals and a participant in Bertrand's political exploits. Pierre falls in love with Anne and she returns the sentiment when Pierre saves her from an attack. In order for Pierre to infiltrate the underground Nazi network in this region of France and to keep up appearances to fool everyone into thinking he's Bertrand, he must go through an elaborate series of performances and escapes. Will Pierre as Bertrand be able to save the French forces from the Nazis before it's too late? What will happen when Anne finds out who Pierre truly is?

Assignment in Brittany (1943) was directed by Jack Conway for MGM. The story is based on the novel Cross Channel by Helen MacInness, serialized in The Saturday Evening Post in 1942. MGM snapped up the rights fairly quick and the film was shot later that year. MacInness' story was adapted to screen by film writing team Anthony Veiller, William H. Wright and Howard Emmett Rogers.

The story requires a leap of faith for plausibility. Pierre fooling everyone because he looks like Bertrand seems very unlikely and if you don't suspend your disbelief you might scoff at the idea like Wycherly's character does. However, the viewer never sees the real Bertrand so as far as we know they could be identical twins!

Like many other WWII films, Assignment in Brittany is a tale of wartime resistance and espionage with a tender love story at its center. It marked the American film debut of French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont (simply billed as Pierre Aumont) and Swedish actress Signe Hasso. Aumont is charming as the conniving yet soft-hearted Pierre. The plot was not a stretch from Aumont's own military experience. According to a TCM article by Frank Miller, "Aumont had served heroically in North Africa during the war and received the Legion of Honor and the Croix de Guerre. Even in Hollywood, he supported the war effort, appearing at special screenings of Assignment in Brittany, to help raise funds for the Resistance. "

If you know me, you'll know that I've been excited for Assignment in Brittany for two reasons: Susan Peters and Darryl Hickman. Studying Peters' life and filmography has always been a pet project of mine and I was thrilled to see her in another starring role. The character of Anne Pinot fit Peters like a glove. The reserved Anne who comes out of her shell to fall in love with Pierre and help with the resistance just suited Peters sensibilities as a person. Anne plays off the polar opposite character of Signe Hasso's Elise in a Madonna/Whore dynamic. Elise is the femme fatale who breaks men's hearts, including that of Richard Whorf's character Jean, and whose Nazi activities threaten to bring harm to the community. Anne on the other hand has a sense of purity and nobility helps saves Pierre and France, for the time being.


Darryl Hickman in Assignment in Brittany (1943)
Darryl Hickman in Assignment in Brittany (1943)

A few years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Darryl Hickman at the TCM Classic Film Festival and I asked him about this film. Hickman plays Etienne, a child who serves as a political messenger for his restaurateur uncle played by William Edmunds.

Spoiler alert: Hickman plays the hero of the film! At first he betrays Pierre but only to keep a secret that is vital information later on. It's a delightful role and I absolutely adored the scene between Aumont, Peters and Hickman toward the end of the film. Hickman is a highly underrated actor. He's always delivered wonderful performances as a child, teen and adult. Seek out his work (and his book about acting!). You won't be disappointed.

I'd also be remiss not ti point out child actress Juanita Quigley who has a terrific part as Jeannine, a young girl who fights back against the Nazis and makes a big sacrifice in the name of freedom. I found out recently that Quigley, who was very private in her final years, lived three towns away from me up until her death in 2017.

Jean-Pierre Aumont, Susan Peters and Darryl Hickman in Assignment in Brittany (1943)

Assignment in Brittany (1943) is a WWII curio that hasn't been available on home video until now. It pairs nicely with another WWII film starring Susan Peters, also featuring a young Darryl Hickman, Song of Russia (1944). Both of these are available from the Warner Archive Collection and for that I'm truly grateful.



Assignment in Brittany (1943) is available on DVD-MOD from the Warner Archive Collection. When you use my buy link you help support this site. Thanks!


Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me a copy of Assignment in Brittany (1943) on DVD for review!

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