By spring 1941, Yugoslavia had endured centuries of conflict when dealing with invaders trying to take over the region, but the threat the Nazis posed was possibly their biggest challenge yet. As the German forces spread their influence over Europe, they fostered a resistance against them, as they had done before with other menaces, though if anything the Nazis were more formidable than any of them thanks to their ruthless cutting down of any opposition in their path. But their forces reckoned without the brave men and women of the Yugoslav resistance: here we will focus on the Petrovich family as they struggle to not only survive against this war machine, but fight back...
Just after the midpoint of the Second World War, and the Allies film industries were heavily involved with propaganda, which this film was, and that often was discerned by which aspect of the conflict needed highlighting for the audiences across the globe to be aware of. Thus we had the occupied Yugoslavia as the inspiration for Undercover, also known as Underground Guerillas, since apparently someone at the War Office in Britain believed it was time for their endeavours to be brought to the silver screen. As it was, unless you had a related interest to this nation (which was broken up in the post-Eastern Bloc world decades later), this one might have been lost in the shuffle.
Well, not so much a shuffle of propaganda films, more a blizzard, many of which did precisely the job they were required to do, but would be largely of historical attraction once the war was over. Nevertheless, with the fascination with those years never having waned to an appreciable degree, there remained plenty of curiosity about what it was like to live through this nightmare, especially when the numbers of those with first-hand experience of it were dwindling more with the passage of time. That may have been slightly at issue with Ealing's Undercover, for there was a largely British cast and crew on board to manufacture it, rather than folks with great familiarity with life in Yugoslavia.
Even in its day, there were grumbles that this effort rang a shade false because of its obviously British cast who made no attempt to disguise their accents, though think on that and try to be realistic: just how many people in the Britain of 1943 would be able to identify a Yugoslav accent, never mind how many actors were adept at delivering one? After all, there were plenty of American propaganda items making it to foreign climes where the cast spoke with American accents, outside of the actual Europeans in the cast (Hollywood being more a destination for refugees of a creative bent than Britain), and this was apparently just fine. Therefore it's perfectly possible to appreciate Undercover with its cast of Brits and their voices ranging from clipped to colloquial (though the Scottish Nazi takes a little getting used to - it's OK, he's not in it much).
The plot had the Petroviches landed right up to their necks in the turmoil as one brother, soldier Milos (John Clements) joins the resistance, while the other, Stephan (Stephen Murray), is a surgeon required to heal anyone put in front of him, Nazi or otherwise. This places him in a difficult position when the German General (Godfrey Tearle) is shot by Milos and Stephan must operate on him, labelling him as a problematic part of this new regime, even a traitor, though we are aware he is nothing of the sort. Meanwhile, Milos's schoolteacher wife Anna (Mary Morris) is stuck in their village with his parents (including famed farceur Tom Walls as his father) which is quickly becoming a flashpoint for the battles, and a chance to fight back is concocted. The locations here were in Wales, which may not look a whole lot like Yugoslavia (as was), but the grand finale when the characters squared off explosively against each other was well arranged and rousing in the manner intended. Music by Frederic Austin.
[This has been restored and released on Blu-ray and DVD as part of Network's The British Film line. There's an image gallery as an extra, and there are subtitles too.]