A Debt of Gratitude we Owe Odette
"Odette" is not the first war movie which I have watched that tells the true story of a brave woman becoming a special forges agent during WWII and like those other movies it does a good job of telling us about the sacrifices, risks and pain these women went through. But unfortunately "Odette" ends up a rather dry movie, maybe intentionally so, but it doesn't make the story come to life or not at least until the 2nd half which highlights what happened to Odette when she is captured by the enemy and thrown into prison. Before that the movie lacks energy and seems to work its way through the facts of Odette's life without bringing the drama to life which is a shame because whilst we have some dodgy accents it is well acted.
Born in France, Odette (Anna Neagle - Yellow Canary) moved to England when she married Englishman Roy Sansom and had three daughters with him. Then in the spring of 1942 Odette heard a plea on the radio by the admiralty for photos and postcards of France which she accidentally sent to the War Office instead but in doing so it brought her to their attention and after an interview agreed to become an agent in the Special Forces, heading back to France to liaise with the resistance. It is there that she meets fellow agent Peter Churchill (Trevor Howard - The Third Man) who she grows close to but both Odette and Peter become known to the enemy and end up being captured. After refusing to reveal information whilst under torture Odette ends up in Ravensbrück concentration camp to await execution.
"Odette" is a movie of two halves and sadly it feels like director Herbert Wilcox was only interested in the second half which focuses on Odette's time when she is captured. Before that it fleetingly goes through how Odette ended up being an agent which whilst recounting the episode with the photos ignores the training and gets us to Cannes and meeting fellow agent Peter as quickly as possible. Now in one way it is understandable because part of Odette's story is that she met future husband Peter whilst working as an agent but it does little justice to the dangers of working as an agent. We get to see a couple of covert operations, passing information as well as the Germans in particular Colonel Henri becoming aware of her but it feels flat and routine.
The second half of "Odette" is where if you excuse the phrase it gets good because the focus is on what Odette went through when captured. It is this side where the movie comes to life because we learn of the torture by the Gestapo and the sub human conditions that Odette was forced to live in. And to be honest it is Anna Neagle's convincing performance and the way she looks, haggard and on the verge of collapse which makes this side come to life. It is only during this second half that you truly get to realise what women like Odette went through during the war. Although there are some curious scenes involving prisoner's of war as an orchestra.
Now Anna Neagle's performance during this second half is brilliant and superior to the first half where thanks to the routine nature of what we see she is unable to establish character. But Neagle's performance is not the only good one and both Trevor Howard and Peter Ustinov impress as fellow agents whilst Marius Goring as Colonel Henri has a real suave yet sinister side which makes us never sure of him.
What this all boils down to is that for me "Odette" doesn't do justice to the story of Odette Sansom as it seems like director Herbert Wilcox was uninterested by the build up. But it features a powerful second half which on its own highlights what Odette went through during WWII; it's just a shame that the first half is not as good.