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Undefeated, The (1950)


Main image of Undefeated, The (1950)
35mm, black and white, 35 mins
DirectorPaul Dickson
Production CompanyWorld Wide Pictures
 Ministry of Pensions
ProducerJames Carr
ScriptPaul Dickson
 Ted Willis
PhotographyRonnie Anscombe

Cast: Gerald Pearson (Joe Anderson); Leo Genn (voice of Joe Anderson)

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The progress of a disabled ex-glider pilot through the rehabilitation schemes organised by the Ministry of Pensions.

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Concerned that images of disablement might induce discomfort in an entertainment-seeking postwar audience, or adversely effect voluntary recruitment to the Services, the Central Office of Information Films Division conducted an audience reaction survey before making The Undefeated widely available. After a three-day trial in 13 cinemas nationwide, the film was greeted enthusiastically by sample audiences, helping to secure it a belated commercial release. It subsequently won several awards and springboard the career of its director, Paul Dickson. The British Film Academy named it Best Documentary of the Year.

The film's success is thanks in part to Gerald Pearson's compelling lead performance as Joe Anderson, a young glider pilot who lost both legs and the power of speech in the war. Perhaps because he suffered a similar fate to his character's - Pearson had both legs amputated after the war - he is able to enact Joe's rehabilitative journey with such spirited authenticity.

Like all directors working in the public sphere, Dickson was charged with providing entertainment while simultaneously promoting the activities of the film's sponsor, in this case the Ministry of Pensions. Dickson's balancing of highly-charged personal drama with impersonal, authoritative explanations of the Ministry's work is commendable, but in fulfilling its informational purpose, the narrative inevitably slackens in places, notably in the interviews between pensioners and officials, which were obviously conducted with the sole purpose of explaining the work of the Ministry's hospitals. Cinematographer Ronnie Anscombe's inspired first-person camerawork invites the viewer to engage emotionally with Joe's rehabilitative journey and to share in his personal triumphs. Extremes of human experience are handled sensitively in an atmosphere of realism and Dickson, who also co-wrote the script, succeeds in steering the film beyond the reaches of sentimentality.

Most people in 1950 would have known someone who was either killed or maimed in the Second World War and the conclusion of the COI's audience survey captures something of the collective consciousness of a populace still mourning the loss of nearly half a million citizens: "About quarter of the audiences found that the film made them feel in some degree uncomfortable or ill at ease... this did not usually result in an unfavourable estimate of the film as a whole and many seemed to regard these feelings as salutary, in that it gave them an opportunity for expressing sympathy and gratitude in respect of men who, they thought, might be too easily forgotten".

Katy McGahan

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Land of Promise: The British Documentary Movement 1930-1950'.

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Video Clips
1. Waving away (1:00)
2. Queen Mary's Hospital (1:00)
3. Finding a job (2:00)
4. Joe meets Lofty (2:00)
Complete film (33:35)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Central Office of Information (1946-2012)