Kanal (1957)



Director:  Andrzej Wajda.

Starring:  Teresa Izewska (Daisy), Tadeusz Janczar (Ens. Jacek 'Korab'), Wienczyslaw Glinski (Lt. 'Zadra'), Tadeusz Gwiazdowski (Sgt. 'Kula'), Stanislaw Mikulski (Smukly), Emil Karewicz (Lt. 'Madry'), Vladek Sheybal (Michal, The Composer), Teresa Berezowska (Tereska), Zofia Lindorf (Old Woman), Janina Jablonowska (Woman), Maria Kretz (Wounded Woman), Jan Englert (Zefir), Kazimierz Dejunowicz (Capt. 'Zabawa'), Zdzislaw Lesniak (Maly), Maciej Maciejewski (Lt. 'Gustaw').

Final days of the September, 1944, Warsaw uprising in Nazi-occupied Poland. Warsaw, 1944. A squadron of Polish soldiers is forced to double back and their only escape route is via the city's sewer ways. Dissension among the troops results in a real mess with their forces separated or lost and very hungry.

It is the second of Wajda's war trilogy, after A Generation and before Ashes and Diamonds. (Not shown in U. S. until 1961.)


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

1944, late September.  The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising nears its tragic end.  Old Town, Riverside, Czerniakow and Sadyba have already fallen to the Germans.  Zoliborz, Mokotow and the downtowns areas are surrounded and cut off.  A company from the Polish resistance started with 70 men and is now down to 43.  The leader is Lt. Zadra.  Second in command is Lt. Wise.  Halinka is the messenger girl, Bullet is the Sgt. Major, and Korab is the officer cadet.  Tagging along is a duck-out-of-water, a music composer named Michal.  The narrators mentions that the viewer should take a close look at these men, the heroes of the tragedy, because these are their last hours on earth. 

The resistance fighters push forward to their new fighting station in Mokotow.  German dive bombers have turned most of the area into rubble.  The Germans have tried and failed in three attempts to break through the Polish lines.  They want to finish of Mokotow then take the downtown area.  It is the 56th day of the Uprising.   

Lt. Wise has time to sleep with messenger girl Halinka.  A handsome fellow known as Jacek gets a visitor.  The attractive blonde named Daisy flirts with him, but before she can get too far, Jacek is called to the front lines as the German assault begins.  A bazooka stops a German tank in its tracks.  Jacek is hit in the upper right chest while taking out a remote controlled small tank.  Despite their best efforts, the Germans surround the Poles.  The unit has suffered 12 dead with another 10 critically wounded. This day of September 267, 1944, the Polish unit is down to 27 men and receives the order to retreat.  The men do not like the thought of retreating but they agree to go after just a little complaining.  They are to use the sewer system to head to the downtown area where they will receive new orders. 

The really hard part of the fight now begins.  In the sewers the men do not know the way to the downtown area.  Daisy goes along to help Jacek.  She knows the sewer system well, but the wounded Jacek travels too slowly and he and Daisy get separated from the unit.   There are also some civilians down in the sewer.  The civilians soon start panicking thinking that the Germans have introduced poison gas into the system.  The resistance fighters stay firm for awhile, but they also soon start to fall apart.  One of the citizens tries to climb out of the sewer system but is shot dead by German troops as he starts to rise out onto street level.   

The composer goes completely crazy and just walks along through the sewers playing tunes on some type of small mouth musical instrument.  Jacek is almost completely exhausted.  He cannot get up the upslope at Wilcza Street in order to get to the downtown area.  So he and Daisy take the path that leads out to the Vistula River.  But as they reach the river they find that the exit is blocked by iron bars. 

Lt. Zadra, another officer and the Sgt. Major get separated from the rest of the unit.  The officers do not realize this, but the Sgt. Major knows it.  He, however, feels it is better not to mention this to the two officers.  They miss the sign for Wilcza Street and wander around without much effect. 

One of the resistance fighters comes out to street level only to discover that he is now a German prisoner and that most of his unit has already been captured.  He also sees a group of dead bodies of people who have obviously been recently killed by a German firing squad. 

Lt. Zarda's group finally come to an exit but it is blocked by booby traps (German grenades hanging from barbed wire).  Zarda's fellow officer is killed while trying to remove the grenades.  The remaining two men push on and finally come out at the downtown area.  Here Lt. Zadra learns from the Sgt. Major that they lost their unit a long time ago.  He is so freaked out by this that he shoots and kills the Sgt. Major.  He then heads back into the sewer system to find his unit. 


Pretty good movie.  The first part was more interesting than the second part.  The fighting above ground easily kept my wife's and my attentions, but the movie dragged a bit when the resistance fighters became lost in the sewer system.  What a terrible end to a group of brave fighters.  They wandered around through all kinds of filth and become thoroughly exhausted.  It all comes to naught because they become hopelessly lost in the sewer system.  Even those men who finally got out to street level were captured and most likely executed. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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