Monday, January 28, 2008


A somewhat schizophrenic WWII spy movie, directed by Henry Hathaway; the first and more successful part is done in the faux-documentary style that Hathaway used for his earlier spy film THE HOUSE ON 92ND STREET, but the last two-thirds abandons that style for a more traditional fictional adventure narrative. There's nothing wrong with either style, but they don’t mesh well here. Establishing the documentary mood is some repetitive narration at the beginning, setting us up for a look at a fictionalized version of the OSS, here called Secret Intelligence. We follow a group of fledgling agents in preparation for overseas intelligence gathering under the watchful guidance of Walter Abel, head of the organization, Melville Cooper, known as their "house mother," and James Cagney, the agent who puts them through their paces. Abel tells Cagney that one of the men, Richard Conte, is actually a German agent hoping to learn the Allies D-Day plans, and they've decided to feed him false information and let him join the group when they parachute into Holland to join the Resistance in destroying a Nazi bomb depot and in bringing back the Frenchman who built the depot. However, along the way, Conte figures out he's been found out, kills an agent during the parachute drop, and skedaddles to Gestapo HQ in Paris (the title address). Realizing that Conte knows faces and names and could scotch the whole mission, Cagney parachutes into France and poses as a Vichy flunky to try to neutralize Conte. This part of the film has some twisty plot points and is exciting, even if Cagney seems woefully miscast as a French-speaking agent--he doesn't even make a half-hearted stab at an accent. However, the finale, which I won't completely spoil, seems rather far-fetched, though it does lead to a nice climax which almost prefigures the ending of a later Cagney classic, WHITE HEAT. Aside from Cagney (who is OK if not as commanding as usual), the rest of the cast is fine, especially Frank Latimore and Annabella as agents-in-training and Sam Jaffe as a French mayor who may or not be on the side of the Resistance. Watch closely and you might catch Karl Malden and E.G. Marshall early in their careers in tiny roles. Both halves of the film are interesting, but the fit as a whole is a little awkward. Still, quite watchable. [FMC]

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