Confirm or Deny (1941)

confirmordeny_2Starring Don Ameche, Joan Bennett, Roddy McDowall, John Loder, Raymond Walburn, Arthur Shields, Eric Blore, Helene Reynolds, Roseanne Murray, Stuart Robertson, Queenie Leonard, Jean Prescott, Billy Bevan

Directed by Archie Mayo

Expectations: Moderate.

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Confirm or Deny is an interesting film because it’s so unique. It’s hard to classify as it’s kind of a thriller, it’s kind of romantic, and it also has an almost fly-on-the-wall, documentary-like feel in its depiction of the war correspondents working in London during The Blitz, a series of Nazi air raids on British cities during World War II. These air raids happened from September 1940 to May 1941, so with a release date in December 1941, Confirm or Deny was also quite the topical film.

The original draft of the story was written by Sam Fuller and star journalist Hank Wales (who, according to Fuller, was the basis for the Hitchcock film Foreign Correspondent). The two newsmen caught wind of the Associated Press offices getting bombed during the Battle of Britain, so they decided to write a film about newsmen doing everything in their power to get the news out despite these incredible, extraordinary circumstances. The finished film reflects a lot of this general feeling, although like all of Fuller’s early scripts, the studio heavily re-wrote Confirm or Deny to fit their desires more closely. I’m guessing they added the romantic angle, as it really doesn’t fit at all, nor is it very believable or romantic.

confirmordeny_3Confirm or Deny was initially to be directed by Fritz Lang, who joined the film on the strength of Fuller and Wales’s script. Lang left just a few days into production, later telling Fuller that the studio re-writes were what drove him away from the picture. The film was finished by Archie Mayo, though whether any of Lang’s footage was used or not is unknown.

But enough history… Confirm or Deny, despite its somewhat tumultuous road to the big screen, is a good movie and it does a great job of capturing the struggles involved with keeping the people informed during war times. There’s actually very little story other than that, and I suspect that’s why the romance angle was added. Without it, the film is literally not much more than Don Ameche barking orders to people. Oh, but he barks so well! Ameche is great in the role, although at times he is rather unlikable.

The romance is the main issue with the film, as it feels completely tacked on and superfluous. Mitch Mitchell, Don Ameche’s character, apparently thinks so too, as while it’s clear he’s got a thing for Joan Bennett’s teletype operator character, he is hardly concerned with keeping her happy and wooing her. His real love is getting the news out, so when late in the film Bennett stands in his way of doing such, Mitchell physically man-handles her into submission, wrestling her into a locked cage so that she can’t stop him from his important work. The scene follows the Fuller directorial rule to shoot fist fights from afar to make them look more believable, and this makes it rather unsettling and hard to watch.

confirmordeny_1Technically, Confirm or Deny stands out in two regards: the use of long takes to capture the extent of the working Consolidated Press office, and the exceptional set design and construction. The long takes are intoxicating and deliver a good jolt of realism and urgency to the film, but I think the sets were my favorite aspect of the film. Just about every set is featured in both a “perfect” state and an “after bombing” state, and the quality of both is superb. Perhaps this isn’t too big a deal, but for me it really drew me into the tale and made the danger believable.

For fans of journalism and Sam Fuller, I’d say tracking down Confirm or Deny is a worthwhile endeavor. It’s a unique movie for its topical depiction of an event that happened so close to the fictionalized film version, in some ways spreading a form of docudrama news to those who may not have been informed on the details of the Blitz. I don’t claim to know anything about the news climate of the 1940s, but if nothing else I know it wasn’t as far-reaching and swift as today’s constant, 24-hour news cycle. Films like Confirm or Deny are entertainment, but they are also teaching, important documents of a time long faded.

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