Monday, May 16, 2011


A tense and complex wartime spy story, a bit different from the average spy film. In 1944, Richard Basehart, who was wounded in combat, has been assigned to an American intelligence unit headed by Gary Merrill. They're experimenting with a new strategy: recruiting German POWs to be parachuted back into Germany to bring back information. When some of the prisoners hold a kangaroo court and kill a German who had been making defeatist remarks (even though by this point, Germany was indeed clearly on the ropes), Oskar Werner, a friend of the dead man, volunteers for a mission, thinking that he can help his country by helping to end the war sooner and save lives. Another POW (Hans Christian Blech) also volunteers, for more mercenary reasons (money), and Basehart becomes the third man, the radio operator. Their mission is to get troop movement info that could help a German general who wants to surrender to the Allies. Once back in Germany, Werner uses an assumed identity to get access to an officer who knows the troop plans. He meets up with a sympathetic woman (Hildegarde Neff), but also soon realizes that an SS man is suspicious of him. After Werner is recognized by a family friend and finds out that his father is still alive, he has mixed feelings about his work. In the tense climax, all three men wind up on the run from the Gestapo.

Though Basehart is top-billed, this is Werner's show all the way and he carries it off very well, creating an interesting, three-dimensional character whom we care about but who is also ambiguous enough that we think he might conceivably betray his mission. It doesn't hurt that Werner (pictured above) is a handsome and charismatic actor. At times, the film reminded me of The Sound of Music: the Americans are stationed in a working French abbey complete with nuns all around, and near the climax, Werner and Basehart are discovered hiding in the shadows by a young boy who seems about to give them up to the Nazis. There is some inventive camerawork and excellent use of location shooting in bombed-out post-war Germany. This was nominated for the Best Picture award, but has been largely forgotten since, but it is worth searching out; it's on DVD as part of Fox's Heroes of War collection. [FMC]

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