„Undercover“ // Review of the 1943 movie about the WWII Chetnik Resistance movement in Yugoslavia
www.generalmihailovich.com ^ | June 2009 | Carl Savich
Posted on Dienstag, 30. Juni 2009 14:57:47 by Ravnagora
„Underground Guerrillas“ (U.S. 1944)
On July 27, 1943, Ealing Studios in Great Britain released the movie Undercover on the guerrilla resistance movement in Axis-occupied Yugoslavia. Undercover was re-released by Columbia Pictures on September 14, 1944 in the United States under the title Underground Guerrillas. The movie was originally entitled Chetnik and was to document the Yugoslav Chetnik resistance movement headed by Draza Mihailovich. Because the movie was released when British support for Mihailovich was waning, however, the film was re-edited and references to Mihailovich and the Chetniks were deleted. The movie is invaluable, nevertheless, as a cinematic account of the resistance movement headed by Draza Mihailovich and the Chetnik guerrillas and how the perception of their role changed.
John Clements starred as Captain Milosh Petrovitch, a Yugoslav guerrilla resistance leader, modeled closely on Draza Mihailovich. Mary Morris played Anna Petrovitch, his wife. Morris later appeared in the BBC Masterpiece Theatre production of Leo Tolstoys Anna Karenina in 1977 as Countess Vronsky, Dr. Who (1982), and the Ray Bradbury Theater (1988). Stephen Murray played Milosh Petrovitchs brother, Stephan Petrovitch, modeled on Milosh Sekulich, a Serbian physician who had worked at the Municipal Hospital in Belgrade from 1935 to 1941. Michael Wilding played the guerrilla Constantine. He later starred in Alfred Hitchcocks Under Capricorn (1949), The World of Suzie Wong (1960), and the Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1963). He would be married to Elizabeth Taylor from 1952 to 1957. Stanley Baker, who was fourteen years old, made his film debut in Undercover as Petar. He later starred in Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. (1951), The Guns of Navarone (1961), and Zulu (1964). Baker turned down the role of James Bond in 1962.
Undercover was made by Ealing Studios in London, which was headed by Sir Michael Balcon. The film was directed by Sergei Nolbandov, a Russian émigré to Britain in the 1920s. Nolbandov had written the screenplay for Fire Over England (1937), which had starred Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, and The Four Just Men (1939). He had directed Ships with Wings for Ealing in 1941, which had starred John Clements, Michael Wilding, and Leslie Banks. In 1946, he was a producer for This Modern Time, a series of documentary newsreels. Michael Balcon had produced Alfred Hitchcocks The 39 Steps in 1935. S.C. Balcon was the associate producer. The cinematography was by Wilkie Cooper. Frederic Austin composed the musical score.
Undercover was originally to be called Chetnik and was to be a movie account of the Chetnik resistance movement headed by Draza Mihailovich in German-occupied Yugoslavia. The movie was made by Ealing in collaboration with the Yugoslav-Government-in-Exile and with Dr. Milosh Sekulich (1900-1986), who was a technical advisor on the movie with W.E. Hart. Sekulich had worked on the original story and had written the first draft treatment, entitled Chetnik, with George Slocombe and Sergei Nolbandov. This draft was the basis for the movie which would be retiled Undercover and filmed in 1942 in Wales.
Sekulich was a representative of the Yugoslav-Government-in-Exile based in London and was the Yugoslav representative to the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency (UNRAA). He had been a physician in Belgrade and was the head of a unit for Internal Diseases and Tuberculosis at the Belgrade Municipal Hospital from 1935 to 1941. The character Dr. Stephan Petrovitch was based on his life and career. Sekulich had left Yugoslavia in 1941 and had landed in Britain where he carried a memorandum from the Serbian Orthodox Church and Draza Mihailovich detailing the mass murders, forced religious conversions, and atrocities committed against Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia by the Ustasha regime.
Sekulich fled German-occupied Serbia in September, 1941 intending to bring accounts of the genocide committed against Serbs by Croatians and Bosnian Muslims to the Allies. He first traveled to Turkey and then to Egypt. His circuitous trek took him to Sudan and then the Congo, finally reaching Lagos, Nigeria. From there he went to Portugal, then to Ireland, from where he traveled to his final destination, London. In London, he submitted the Appeals of the Orthodox Church and documentation of the Ustasha genocide and Roman Catholic forced conversions of Orthodox Serbs. He continued to do medical research and published medical treatises, such as The Classification of Pulmonary Tuberculosis (1953) and Tuberculosis, Classification, Pathogenesis and Management (1955), published by Heinemann.
The movie opens with a trumpet fanfare with the title „Yugoslavia Spring 1941“ over white blossoms blooming in spring on branches. The period is immediately before the German invasion of Yugoslavia on April 6, 1941. A voice-over narration presents the history of Yugoslavia.
„For centuries the Yugoslav people have sought and prayed for peace. For centuries peace has been denied them. Generation after generation in our lovely country has known the din of battle, the marching feet of invading armies, the massacre of brave men and women who would never accept defeat. This is our heritage, which has bred in our people their strength and their endurance in the cause of freedom, which led them in the last war to defy the whole might of German arms, which is guiding them now once again maybe to face the same enemy….Yugoslavia has made her choice…“ A Serbian schoolteacher gives this narration to her class. She tells them that the Yugoslav government sought to let the Germans walk into the country but that the King had prevented this, pointing to a framed portrait on the wall, a picture of King Peter II. A coup in Belgrade had replaced the regime under the Regent Paul, who had signed a pact wit Germany. Adolf Hitler planned to retaliate by destroying Yugoslavia as a country. The period is days before the Axis invasion when Yugoslavia was preparing for the expected assault. One student in the class, Danilo, played by Terwyn Jones, declares: Slavs face their enemies. The school is in Serbia. There is a chalkboard with sentences written in Serbian Cyrillic script.
The teacher is Anna Petrovitch, the wife of Captain Milosh Branko Petrovitch, a Yugoslav army officer who will form a guerrilla army in the mountains of Serbia following the German invasion and occupation. This was a clue that Milosh was modeled on Draza Mihailovich and the Chetnik guerrilla movement organized at Ravna Gora. He comes to the school and tells Anna about the preparations for war. By contrast, Josip Broz Tito had been a soldier in the Austro-Hungarian Army, was taken prisoner by the Russian Army, and had returned to the Balkans as a hardcore Bolshevik and Communist agitator and organizer, whose wife, Pelagija Belousova, was Russian….