Wednesday, July 1, 2009

13 Rue Madeleine

"13 Rue Madeleine" (Henry Hathaway, 1947) There are several good movies to be made based on the exploits of the American and British Secret Service during World War II. The OSS wasn't all encrypters and code-breakers listening over wirelesses in sterile little offices. There were field agents, double agents, and mis-information spreaders and they had at their disposal all sorts of spy ledgerdemain that has been cobbled for many of the traditional thrillers that came out after the war. No one that I know has ever made a movie about Camp X, where training was done, papers forged and weaponry created.

But "13 Rue Madeleine" is, at least, a good start. Directed by Henry Hathaway in a slightly more flashy style than his true-life crime dramas earlier in the war, it still employed a lot of photography "
in the field" as the movie explains, "often in the actual locations."

The story follows the training of Group 077 (the writers had to change the name over script objections), each one in non-specific training until they're called upon for "a job" in whichever corner of the world they're dropped.
Heading the training is Robert Sharkey (James Cagney), who has one complication—one of his agents-in-training is a Nazi agent, and during the course of training he has to find out who it is to exploit him. The film is surprisingly cold-blooded, with many agents dying in the process of carrying out their missions, and there's one case of "burning the village in order to save it." There's also a lot of appearance by well-known actors in small roles at the beginning of their careers including Karl Malden, E.G. Marshall, and Red Buttons. But, towering over all of them is Cagney, who still manages to show off a lot of grace in a role that's pretty rough. But he's also the perfect actor who you believe could kill with impunity and laugh at the enemy in the face of torture.

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