A Canterbury Tale (1944)

Article 4622 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-4-2014
Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Featuring Eric Portman, Sheila Sim, Dennis Price
Country: UK
What it is: Unusual comedy/drama

An American soldier, a British solder, and a girl from London all en route to Canterbury end up in a small farming town called Chillingbourne. The girl encounters an assailant who pours glue in her hair, and it is discovered that she is one of eleven girls who have been so assaulted. She vows to solve the mystery of the identity of this man, and the two soldiers assist her.

There’s no way to adequately describe this offbeat, gentle, bizarre and sometimes moving movie. Though it initially plays itself out like a mystery of sorts (via the investigation of the Glueman’s identity), this plot line is mostly a framework from which we can examine the various characters and the losses that each one has endured in their lives. This is all tied to the fact that these characters, like the ones in Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” (from which the movie derives its title) are, in their own way, on “pilgrimages” of their own, and their own personal stories will play their way out when they finally arrive in Canterbury during the last quarter of the film. It’s an engrossing movie for those willing to sit back and let the movie take its own time in unfolding; those only interested in the mystery aspect will probably find the movie frustrating. The fantastic content here is subtle but intentional; the historic significance of the Road to Canterbury is sprinkled with mysticism, and the story ultimately culminates with a series of “miracles” (the quotes are here to indicate that there is certain amount of ambiguity as to the degree to which they might be called “miraculous”). It also bears mentioning that the concept of the Glueman may be one of the strangest and least sinister variations on the horror concept of a serial killer. It’s an entrancing movie, but I’ve always come to expect something a bit special whenever Powell and Pressburger combine their forces, as they do here.

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