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It Happened Here


It Happened Here

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"What if?" speculation has provided endless fuel for fantasy-fancying historical storytellers, who take well-known events and twist them around, Twilight Zone-style. One scenario in particular—what if the Germans had won WWII?—has resulted in several notable novels and films, partly because the evil of the Nazis is so extreme that to portray them as victorious is fascinatingly perverse. It Happened Here was begun by filmmakers Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo when the two weren't even out of their teens, and when it was finally shown in 1964, it proved controversial. Set in a German-occupied 1944 England, It Happened Here uses its extremely low budget to its advantage: The grainy black-and-white photography is documentary-like, and the faux newsreel footage downright creepy in its verisimilitude. But it's Brownlow and Mollo's narrative that makes the film so complex and compelling. A nurse (Pauline Murray) decides to take a job with the Nazis, figuring any national post-war stabilization is better than none. She's soon molded into the Nazi ideal, but even though she remains relatively apolitical, her pact with the devil eventually manifests itself in horrible ways. Shocking in its details—schoolchildren goose-step down the streets, radios broadcast only stirring marches and propaganda—It Happened Here (restored for this release with seven minutes of cut footage reinserted for the first time in the U.S.) presents a frightening alternate reality. The Brownlow/Mollo team made only one other film together, and it couldn't be more different. Winstanley (1975) is a painstakingly accurate depiction of the 17th Century Diggers commune and its revolutionary decision to reclaim common land for the disenfranchised post-Oliver Cromwell poor. Based on David Caute's novel Comrade Jacob and narrated from the notes of Gerrard Winstanley, the austere black-and-white film does a thorough job of recreating 1649 England in all its squalor. Winstanley's (Miles Halliwell) noble idealism is as proto-hippie as proto-Commie, and the empathy of the filmmakers for his struggle is apparent. Brownlow and Mollo's sometimes beautiful film, however, is as dull as a cow milking, so intent on historic accuracy and classroom-ready reenactment that it raises the question of whether entertainment value was even remotely an issue.