Yellow Canary


1h 24m 1944
Yellow Canary

Brief Synopsis

A socialite poses as a Nazi spy to mask her activities as a British agent.

Film Details

Genre
Adventure
Thriller
Spy
Release Date
Jan 1944
Premiere Information
London opening: 19 Oct 1943; New York opening: week of 13 Apr 1944
Production Company
Imperator Film Productions, Ltd.; RKO Radio British Productions, Ltd.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
Great Britain and United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 24m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7,572ft

Synopsis

In London in 1940, German bombers, drawn by a signal from Sally Maitland, a British Nazi sympathizer, drop their bombs on Buckingham Palace. When British soldiers rush to the source of Sally's signal, they find only the dead body of Oscar Borell. Sally, meanwhile, has taken a train to Liverpool, where she boards the S.S. Carina , a ship bound for Canada. Sally, who is known as the "Yellow Canary" because of her pro-Nazi sympathies, is snubbed by most of the ship's passengers except for Jan Orlock, a Polish refugee, and Lt. Commander Jim Garrick of British Naval Intelligence, who is traveling undercover as a supply officer for the British army. Sally welcomes Orlock's company but snubs Garrick. As the ship heads out to sea, it is followed by a German cruiser, which orders her to heave to. After the Germans commandeer the Carina , an officer boards the ship and demands that Garrick be turned over to the Germans. Orlock, who has seen his mother disabled and his home destroyed in a German raid, denounces the officer in perfect German. Sally watches as the Germans escort Garrick from the ship, but later discovers that the man taken prisoner was actually Garrick's double and the real Garrick is still onboard the Carina . After the Germans leave, Orlock tries to convince Sally of the heinousness of the Nazis and insists that she meet his mother, who is living in Halifax. When the ship docks at Halifax harbor, Sally takes a room at the Barrington Hotel, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police assigns two agents to follow her. Orlock takes Sally to visit his invalid mother at the Chateau Brochet, and while Sally toasts the "new order," Madame Orlock drinks to old freedoms. Although Sally tells Orlock that they should stop seeing each other because of their differing political beliefs, he insists on calling for her the next afternoon. When Sally returns to her hotel room that night, she finds Garrick camped in a bed outside her door, claiming that it is the last available bed in Halifax. The next day, Sally joins Orlock and his mother on Signal Hill above the Halifax harbor. There, Orlock describes Halifax as Europe's gateway to the Atlantic and recounts the destruction of the harbor by a TNT explosion in 1917. When Sally and the Orlocks return to Chateau Brochet, they are visited by two Canadian agents, who warn the Orlocks that Sally is a traitor. Shaken by her accusers, Sally decides that she must leave Halifax. In reply, Orlock shows her his cigarette case which is encrusted with a swastika, and reveals that he is a Nazi undercover agent. After reaffirming his love for Sally, Orlock invites her to join his organization of Nazi spies, who he says will act "when the star rises," the phrase he spoke to the German officer aboard the Carina . After Sally returns to her hotel, the Orlocks are visited by Mrs. Towcester, a busy-body passenger from the Carina , who informs them that Garrick is a British Intelligence agent. As soon as Mrs. Towcester leaves, Orlock burns all his papers to insure that they will not fall into Garrick's hands. Later that night, Sally returns to the Chateau Brochet to search Orlock's study and is interrupted by Garrick, who is working undercover with Sally for British Intelligence. Back at the hotel bar, Sally informs Garrick that Orlock is a Nazi and that his organization plans to act shortly. At the door to her hotel room, Sally apologizes to Garrick for her rude behavior, and as she opens the door, he kisses her. Their embrace is witnessed by Orlock, who is seated in Sally's room. When the door closes, Orlock pulls out his gun and orders Sally to leave with him. In response, Sally slaps Orlock and accuses him of being a British agent who has betrayed their love. Sally's behavior regains Orlock's confidence, and he decides to introduce her to their leader. As Sally walks into the hotel corridor, she drops a message to Garrick, instructing him to go to headquarters and wait. On the drive to their meeting, Orlock tells Sally about how a man named Oscar Borell sabotaged their mission to bomb the King and Queen of England at their country palace by signaling the planes to drop the bombs on Buckingham Palace instead. Upon arriving at Chateau Brochet, Orlock introduces Sally to the other members of the ring, and she recognizes several of them as hotel employees. Then striding down the stairs, comes the group's leader, Madame Orlock. After informing Sally that she was only posing as Orlock's Mother, she tells the group that a German ship, loaded with TNT, has infiltrated a British convoy and will blow up Halifax harbor that night. She then announces that they plan to use Sally as a decoy and instructs her to call British Intelligence with the misinformation that the Queen Mary is the target of Nazi sabotage. As instructed, Sally phones Garrick at headquarters, but then smashes the lights and yells a warning about the planned sabotage of the harbor. Quickly switching on the lights, Orlock shoots Sally, who falls to the ground. Aware of Sally's danger, Garrick rushes to the chateau and takes the Nazis prisoners. Alerted by Sally's information, the British Navy singles out the German ship before it enters the harbor and bombs it into oblivion. Some time later in London, Sally, who was saved from the bullet's impact by Orlock's cigarette case, arrives home and is at last welcomed as a hero by her family. Sally then discovers that she was trailed by Garrick, who introduces himself to the Maitland family as their new son-in-law.

Film Details

Genre
Adventure
Thriller
Spy
Release Date
Jan 1944
Premiere Information
London opening: 19 Oct 1943; New York opening: week of 13 Apr 1944
Production Company
Imperator Film Productions, Ltd.; RKO Radio British Productions, Ltd.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
Great Britain and United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 24m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7,572ft

Articles

The Yellow Canary (1943)


RKO's British unit did its part for the war effort with Yellow Canary (1943), a tale of a socialite posing as a Nazi sympathizer to mask her activities as a British agent. Forced to leave England, ostracized by everyone, including her well-to-do family, she is courted by both a Polish aristocrat and a British naval intelligence officer aboard ship to Canada. By the time the vessel docks, it has become apparent that several of the principals are playing a double game in this thriller fashioned by producer-director Herbert Wilcox for his bride, Anna Neagle.

A music hall performer in her native England, Neagle was discovered by Wilcox, who shepherded her career and eventually married her a few months before the release of Yellow Canary. After several successes in Britain, including the biopics Nell Gwyn (1934), Victoria the Great (1937), and Nurse Edith Cavell (1939), Wilcox tried to make Neagle a star in Hollywood. But musicals such as Irene (1940) and No, No Nanette (1940) were not huge successes. In England, however, Neagle's stardom grew even greater during the war years. The personal and professional partnership between the actress and the film impresario was a long and fruitful one, lasting until his death in 1977. Neagle, who returned to the stage when her film career waned in the 1950s, was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1969 for her contributions to the theater and lived until 1986.

The characters of the Polish aristocrat Jan Orlock and his imperious mother may remind viewers a little of the lethal mother-son combo in Alfred Hitchcock's Nazi spy thriller Notorious (1946). There are a few other Hitchcock connections with this picture. Lucie Mannheim, who plays Madame Orlock, was in the director's The 39 Steps (1935). Cast member Nova Pilbeam was in Hitchcock's original version of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), as well as his Young and Innocent (1937).

Co-scripter Miles Malleson worked with Hitchcock in another capacity: as an actor in The 39 Steps and Stage Fright (1950). He also appeared in several other pictures made by the Wilcox-Neagle team, and wrote several of them, too. The talented and prolific Malleson was for many years a leading light of the British stage and cinema, chalking up film credits in notable productions for Alexander Korda, David Lean and others. In the 1950s, he appeared in an episode of the popular Robin Hood TV series, which starred Richard Greene, seen here as the naval intelligence officer Garrick.

The Yellow Canary script was also written by studio contract writer DeWitt Bodeen, who had a hand in such memorable works as Cat People (1942), The Seventh Victim (1943), and The Curse of the Cat People (1944), all of them for Val Lewton's acclaimed horror unit at RKO.

Another British entertainment legend in the cast is Margaret Rutherford, two years before her career-defining role as Madame Arcati in Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit (1945) and nearly two decades before she first took on what would become perhaps her most famous role, Miss Jane Marple, in a series of films based on Agatha Christie's mysteries.

Director/Producer: Herbert Wilcox
Screenplay: P.M. Bower, Miles Malleson, DeWitt Bodeen
Cinematography: Max Greene (aka Mutz Greenbaum)
Editing: Vera Campbell
Art Direction: William C. Andrews
Original Music: Clifton Parker
Cast: Anna Neagle (Sally Maitland), Richard Greene (Lt. Cmdr. Jim Garrick), Nova Pilbeam (Betty Maitland), Lucie Mannheim (Madame Orlock), Margaret Rutherford (Mrs. Towcester).
BW-84m.

by Rob Nixon
The Yellow Canary (1943)

The Yellow Canary (1943)

RKO's British unit did its part for the war effort with Yellow Canary (1943), a tale of a socialite posing as a Nazi sympathizer to mask her activities as a British agent. Forced to leave England, ostracized by everyone, including her well-to-do family, she is courted by both a Polish aristocrat and a British naval intelligence officer aboard ship to Canada. By the time the vessel docks, it has become apparent that several of the principals are playing a double game in this thriller fashioned by producer-director Herbert Wilcox for his bride, Anna Neagle. A music hall performer in her native England, Neagle was discovered by Wilcox, who shepherded her career and eventually married her a few months before the release of Yellow Canary. After several successes in Britain, including the biopics Nell Gwyn (1934), Victoria the Great (1937), and Nurse Edith Cavell (1939), Wilcox tried to make Neagle a star in Hollywood. But musicals such as Irene (1940) and No, No Nanette (1940) were not huge successes. In England, however, Neagle's stardom grew even greater during the war years. The personal and professional partnership between the actress and the film impresario was a long and fruitful one, lasting until his death in 1977. Neagle, who returned to the stage when her film career waned in the 1950s, was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1969 for her contributions to the theater and lived until 1986. The characters of the Polish aristocrat Jan Orlock and his imperious mother may remind viewers a little of the lethal mother-son combo in Alfred Hitchcock's Nazi spy thriller Notorious (1946). There are a few other Hitchcock connections with this picture. Lucie Mannheim, who plays Madame Orlock, was in the director's The 39 Steps (1935). Cast member Nova Pilbeam was in Hitchcock's original version of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), as well as his Young and Innocent (1937). Co-scripter Miles Malleson worked with Hitchcock in another capacity: as an actor in The 39 Steps and Stage Fright (1950). He also appeared in several other pictures made by the Wilcox-Neagle team, and wrote several of them, too. The talented and prolific Malleson was for many years a leading light of the British stage and cinema, chalking up film credits in notable productions for Alexander Korda, David Lean and others. In the 1950s, he appeared in an episode of the popular Robin Hood TV series, which starred Richard Greene, seen here as the naval intelligence officer Garrick. The Yellow Canary script was also written by studio contract writer DeWitt Bodeen, who had a hand in such memorable works as Cat People (1942), The Seventh Victim (1943), and The Curse of the Cat People (1944), all of them for Val Lewton's acclaimed horror unit at RKO. Another British entertainment legend in the cast is Margaret Rutherford, two years before her career-defining role as Madame Arcati in Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit (1945) and nearly two decades before she first took on what would become perhaps her most famous role, Miss Jane Marple, in a series of films based on Agatha Christie's mysteries. Director/Producer: Herbert Wilcox Screenplay: P.M. Bower, Miles Malleson, DeWitt Bodeen Cinematography: Max Greene (aka Mutz Greenbaum) Editing: Vera Campbell Art Direction: William C. Andrews Original Music: Clifton Parker Cast: Anna Neagle (Sally Maitland), Richard Greene (Lt. Cmdr. Jim Garrick), Nova Pilbeam (Betty Maitland), Lucie Mannheim (Madame Orlock), Margaret Rutherford (Mrs. Towcester). BW-84m. by Rob Nixon

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Although the film's copyright was issued to RKO Radio Pictures, Inc., the application author was listed as RKO British Productions, Ltd., suggesting that this picture was a co-production between producer Herbert Wilcox and RKO British. Several pre-production news items in Hollywood Reporter support this assumption. A September 1942 Hollywood Reporter news item notes that Herbert Wilcox would produce and direct spy a drama for RKO, written by American DeWitt Bodeen and starring Wilcox's wife, Anna Neagle, that would take place in both London and Canada. Presumably this production was Yellow Canary. Hollywood Reporter news items in July 1942 and September 1942 note that this picture, was to be a Hollywood production, filmed partly on location in Canada. According to Wilcox's biography, however, after war broke out in England, he and Neagle, who were both British subjects, felt compelled to return home, and so Wilcox asked to be released from his long-term contract with RKO. Wilcox and Neagle then left for England to continue producing films there. Although American reviews list the running time of the film as 84 minutes, British reviews give the running time as 95 minutes, suggesting that the picture was cut for the American market.