Wednesday, June 02, 2010


Sterling Hayden is driving through the desert minding his own business when his car breaks down. At the mechanic's, he meets Ruth Roman who offers to take him on as a driving companion to Santa Fe. When they stop for food, Helen, a woman who has been following them, takes Hayden aside and tells him that Roman has just recently been released from a sanitarium after having had a nervous breakdown. Her doctor (Werner Klemperer) wants Hayden to continue riding with Roman and get her safely to Santa Fe. But soon, when they're stopped by police, Hayden finds out that Roman is wanted for questioning in connection with a murder in California. The cop handcuffs the two together, but Hayden overpowers him and they escape. Roman then tells Hayden all: after the war, when she went back to her native Germany to find her long-lost brother, she was drawn into a plot to smuggle important missile secrets into the U.S. to give to a Prof. Kissel, now teaching at a university in New Mexico. Commies from East Berlin are after her, as are the police and, as it develops, so are the FBI and the CIA. When they get to Santa Fe, the dean of the university disavows any knowledge of Kissel’s presence, despite a newspaper clipping Roman has noting the scientist's recent hiring. As Roman begins to doubt her sanity, Klemperer shows up to take control. Who can we trust? Roman? Klemperer? The CIA? Kissel?

The title of this adequate thriller is, as far as I can tell, a reference not to anything in the film, but to Hitchcock's THE 39 STEPS which had a similar plot (innocent man caught up in spy chase while handcuffed to a woman). Hayden and Roman, pictured above, would never get prizes for their acting, but they're believable enough here, especially Hayden (a little bit tough like Robert Mitchum, a little bit laconic like Gary Cooper). In the last half, as plot twists come fast and furious, we are kept nicely off-balance, though if you stop to ask too many questions, plot loopholes galore will crop up, most of which are not wrapped up in the pat ending. [TCM]

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