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Bon Voyage (1944)


Main image of Bon Voyage (1944)
35mm, black and white, French dialogue, 26 mins
DirectorAlfred Hitchcock
Production CompanyPhoenix Films
ForMinistry Of Information
Director of PhotographyGunther Krampf

Cast: John Blythe (John Dougall); Molière Players

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An RAF officer tells the story of his daring escape from a Nazi POW camp, a thrilling tale of meticulous planning and split-second precision carried out to perfection. But how accurate is his version, and did he know what was really going on?

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Bon Voyage was the first of two French-language propaganda shorts that Alfred Hitchcock made in 1944 for the Ministry of Information as morale-boosters for the French Resistance.

Considerably more successful as pure entertainment than its companion Aventure Malgache, Bon Voyage is an expertly constructed suspense thriller that is neatly divided into two distinct halves: the first being a nerve-jangling story of an escape from a Nazi prison carried out against seemingly impossible odds, the second being a deconstruction of this story that shows the escape wasn't quite the perfectly-executed piece of derring-do that it initially seemed to be.

On the surface, the message seems all too clear - it's a straightforward elaboration of the classic "careless talk costs lives" slogan. But if the film is looked at in more detail, its educational value becomes altogether more suspect. Since we are asked in the second half to question virtually everything that happened in the first, what assurance are we given that the second half is the "true" version and that poor Dougall isn't being subjected to further manipulation?

So Bon Voyage is not so much a propaganda vehicle as a philosophical essay into the nature of truth. It may well be the closest that Hitchcock came to the edgy, paranoid universe of the Czech writer Franz Kafka, with whom his work has frequently been compared.

This decidedly ambiguous message, coupled with the only British character being portrayed as a naïve simpleton (something unlikely to have gone down well with the film's government backers), may explain why it only received sporadic screenings in France, and was then shelved until a 1993 revival. However, it was at least shown, unlike Aventure Malgache, whose anti-British sentiment proved too much for the powers that be.

Bon Voyage was co-scripted by Angus MacPhail, the man Hitchcock credited with coining the term 'MacGuffin' - ironically enough, in this particular instance the papers that Dougall is asked to deliver are all too relevant to the plot! The film also introduces the concept of the "lying flashback" that Hitchcock would later use to memorable if confusing effect in Stage Fright (1950).

The only named actor is John Blythe, with the all-French supporting cast identified only as 'The Molière Players' - a precautionary measure, as many of them had families living in Nazi-occupied France. Despite the language and setting, the film was entirely shot at Associated British Studios in Welwyn Garden City.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. The rendezvous (1:50)
2. A discrepancy (1:03)
3. Stefan's secret (1:24)
4. A fatal mistake (1:42)
Aventure Malgache (1944)
Bernstein, Sidney (1899-1993)
Hitchcock, Alfred (1899-1980)
MacPhail, Angus (1903-1962)
Welwyn Studios
Hitchcock at War