On YouTube I’ve just spotted a film about a member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) who sailed to Canada. Yellow Canary was directed by Herbert Wilcox in 1943.
I’m delighted because I hadn’t got this movie on my (yes, very brief) list of WRNS films. See below. And it's the only one where a Wren is lethal toughie.
In WW2 Sally Maitland (played by Anna Neagle) wasn’t working on a warship as an RN person. No woman did. Nor was she doing signalling and coding, as Wrens did on troop ships.
Instead Sally was a deep-cover spy for British intelligence on a passenger ship. Her work was to act as a pro-Nazi but charming British civilian, including on the voyage from England to Halifax NS.
She infiltrates, she plots, she nearly marries the dreadful Nazi. Only at the very end does she tie her deceitfully platinum waves back, tuck her hair under her uniform HMS cap and share family tea at home in an unimpeachable Home Counties sort of way.Dear reader, yes, she marries the co-spy (Richard Greene). He turns out to have been trying to protect her all along.
Goodness, the blonde dame in the fur suddenly turns out to need a rescuer with a cocked gun. Didn't she have her own? Wasn't she in command of him a minute ago?
(At that point in the war, with all the labour shortages, real Wrens were allowed to carry on Wrenning after marriage. Neagle was actually married to the director, Herbert Wilcox.)
In fact, if you don’t watch carefully you can easily end up not knowing that Sally truly was a nice Wren after all. She was not a double or treble agent just masquerading as a female member of the unimpeachable Senior Service.
Basis? Mitford nazi and maybe a US cowboy fan.
A story by one of the three screenwriters, PM Bower, is credited as the basis. PM Bower is untraceable. But literary sleuths know that if you scratch a set of initials (say CB: Charlotte Bronte) you may well find a woman underneath.
There was, actually, a BM Bower (1871-1940). A woman. Is she the originator? Bertha Muzzy Sinclair, formerly Bower, was a prolific US pulp novelist and scriptwriter, specialising in women in men’s worlds, such as the Wild West. Could an earlier BM Bower story have inspired the chaps’ screenplay?
“Her work was unusual for its time … featuring female characters that were as developed as their male counterparts” says Britannica.
The Yellow Canary's female characters are indeed developed. The ruthless leader of the Nova Scotia Nzi spy ring turns out to be the ‘poor old lady in the wheelchair’. The ‘carer’ pushing her invalid carriage is actually her evil henchwoman.
Bower’s The Flying U Strikes, and The Quirt are about spying, but certainly not in Halifax NS in WW2. Yet the identity fits, just. What’s your bet?