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"But why did you join the Organization in the first place? When you joined that you accepted National Socialism, and you accepted every method it employs to achieve its aims."
In 1944 the village of Shaftesbury is evacuated as part of a German crackdown on partisan activity in the area. Pauline, an apolitical Irish nurse, is accidentally left behind with several of her friends, all of whom are killed in a Resistance ambush. On reaching London Pauline finds nursing jobs are controlled by the paramilitary Immediate Action Organization, which she is reluctant to join. She changes her mind after witnessing the Organization efficiently putting down a brawl in which an IAO officer is brutally assaulted. Pauline has no interest in fascist ideals, but thinks resistance to the occupation is only making things worse and Britain should get back on its feet. Unfortunately she discovers that separating herself from the more reprehensible actions of fascism is not so easy in practice.
The concept of the film was first developed in 1956 by eighteen year-old Kevin Brownlow, and was eight years in the making -- the longest ever production schedule to date according to the Guinness Book of World Records. It had a cast of hundreds; all volunteers with only two professional actors among them. While trying to find WW 2 uniforms for the film Brownlow met sixteen-year old history buff Andrew Mollo, and the two decided to work together on the project. Brownlow would later become a prominent film historian and Mollo a leading military historian. It Happened Here also launched the career of cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, who went on to such films as The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Empire Strikes Back.
The title is a reference to It Can't Happen Here, a 1935 novel about a Hitler-a-like taking over the United States.
It Happened Here contains the following tropes:
- Alternate History: An opening narration explains that Britain was invaded in July 1940, with a nascent Resistance quickly crushed without outside support. The film is set four years later -- the United States has entered the war and is supporting a resurgent partisan movement with carrier-based aircraft. Most German troops have been shifted to the Russian front to combat a Soviet breakthrough in the Urals, leaving the occupation of Britain to a token force, including volunteers from the British Legion of SS.
- As Himself: Colin Jordan and other British fascists played members of the IAO.
- Completely Missing the Point: Reviewers condemned the film on its release for endorsing fascism, particularly the scene where genuine British neo-Nazis espouse their views. The creators included that scene in the belief that many people would not equate their own discriminatory views with those of the Nazis; however Jewish groups felt that the "unsophisticated" public would not recognize this irony.
- Day of the Jackboot
- Executive Meddling: United Artists cut seven minutes of film showing British fascist leader Colin Jordan exposing his views. It took over thirty years for Kevin Brownlow to regain the rights to the film so it could be released as originally intended.
- He Who Fights Monsters
Dr Fletcher: "The appalling thing about fascism is that you've got to use fascist methods to get rid of it. We've all got a bit of it in us, and it doesn't take a lot to bring it to the surface."
- La Résistance: Subverted. The British civilians in Shaftesbury are clearly more afraid of the partisans than they are of their German occupiers.
- Les Collaborateurs: Subverts the popular view that only self-serving opportunists and power-hungry fanatics would work with an invading force.
- Moral Myopia: A female IAO Commandant reprimands Pauline for not showing "loyalty to the English people" (e.g. failing to denounce her friends). Also the IAO Political Leader at a funeral for a Black Shirt:
"This rabble, this Jewish pirate scum, HAVE MURDERED OUR COMRADE!"
- Newscaster Cameo: Veteran wartime BBC radio announcers Alvar Lidell and John Snagge gave their services free to voice reconstructed newsreels and radio broadcasts.
- No Budget: The reason why the movie took so long to make. The Internet Movie Database estimates the total budget as $20,000. The cast was filled with amateurs or professionals working for free. Stanley Kubrick donated film stock left over from Dr. Strangelove. Gill and Brownlow borrowed equipment. Colin Jordan and the other real-life British fascists got their controversial parts in the movie because Gill and Brownlow couldn't afford to pay actors.
- Propaganda Machine: A newsreel gives a revisionist history of British/German relations, ending with British and German soldiers having a snowball fight on the Russian front.
- Putting on the Reich: Justified, of course, by Britain actually being under German occupation.
- Rare Vehicles: Actual vehicles, uniforms and weapons from the era were used, all donated by various collectors.
- Reassigned to Antarctica: Pauline is demoted and sent to the countryside, a move she initially welcomes as the country hospital has none of the fascist paramilitary trappings of the ambulance corps. She then discovers the hospital is being used to euthanize foreign slave workers who have contracted TB. Also seen when a 'friend' tries to denounce Pauline for secretly trying to get some morphine. Fortunately her superior has just received a phone call announcing his reassignment to somewhere unpleasant (presumably the Russian front) and throws her out of his office.
- Retraux: Hand-held cameras, grainy footage and quick cuts were used for the newsreel, with no stock footage whatsoever being used.
- The Reveal: When Pauline learns the unpleasant truth about her new hospital.
- The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: At the beginning of the movie, the SS are shown massacring civilians found in a restricted area. At the end of the movie the Resistance gun down unarmed prisoners from the British Legion of SS.
- Shown Their Work: On one occasion a group of Bundeswehr tank officers training in Britain were surprised to see German WW 2 soldiers marching through Parliament Square; they inspected the troops and pronounced them "absolutely correct".
- State Sec
- Training Montage: Used to show not only Pauline being taught new skills by the IAO, but also how she is being indoctrinated. At the beginning the nurses flinch when firing a Webley revolver; by the end of the montage all of them are shown coldly blazing away at their targets.
- Talking Heads: Pauline's co-workers justifying their involvement in the euthanasia program.
- The Un-Reveal: The final scene is of Pauline treating the Allied wounded after her capture, while the distant rattle of machine-gun fire is heard as the SS prisoners are massacred. We never discover her fate.
- Villains Out Shopping: A montage shows German soldiers playing tourist in London, mixing with the locals and chatting up girls.