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War and Order (1940)


Main image of War and Order (1940)
35mm, black and white, 10 mins
DirectorCharles Hasse
Production CompanyGPO Film Unit
Produced forMinistry of Information
ProducerHarry Watt
ScriptHarry Watt
Commentary WriterLionel Gamlin
CameraEric Cross

Police work during World War II in Britain.

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One of the strengths of this picture is the way a mass of information about the multifaceted role of the police is harnessed through Lionel Gamlin's enlightening and accessible commentary - historically punctuated by the visual splash of an occasional newspaper headline. This is one of the only sensational aspects to the story, that otherwise demonstrates law enforcement calmly and effectively going about its business, against the backdrop of war. As Gamlin states: "The new arm of the law tends to be just as steady as the old one", successfully signified in a single shot of a strong, uniformed arm in classic traffic control pose.

In addition to directing this film, Charles Hasse was the second unit director of Men of the Lightship (1940). Later on, his career drifted from documentary into editing features. His work did not have the impact or longevity of his colleague Harry Watt, who had built his innovative reputation on the likes of Night Mail (co-d. Basil Wright, 1936) and The Saving of Bill Blewitt (1936). During this second period of global warfare the unit had mutated into the Crown Film Unit, steered by producer Ian Dalrymple, under the auspices of the Ministry of Information. In this period of transition, it was the Edinburgh-born Watt who was the uncredited producer and scriptwriter of War and Order. His silent contribution might have accounted for the film's solid nature. Funnily enough, Hasse was the uncredited producer on this gifted Scotsman's Christmas Under Fire (1941), defying the British to have a merry Christmas despite the onslaught of the Blitz.

Music is sparsely but appropriately used, the licensing of which consumed a hefty chunk of the production budget, costing over £28. Ewing's jolly song 'Ask a Policeman' points out the reassuring purpose of the police, while also illustrating the force's human side. Elgar's rousing Symphony No. 1 (coincidently, originally written for a military war hero) is effectively deployed to crank up the pace in a montage of our stoic coppers, who without grumble, efficiently snap into action at the cry of 'Moaning Minnie'. "The police are standing by. Citizens' first line of defence is manned and ready" was the key message about British wartime law and order enforcement. Scotland Yard must have felt that it sent a positive message about the nation's police officers, as at their request a copy was sent across the Atlantic to the FBI for 'instructional purposes'.

Rebecca Vick

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'If War Should Come: The GPO Film Unit Collection Volume 3'.

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Video Clips
Complete film (11:20)
The GPO Film Unit: 1940