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German Spys Don't Fool William Powell
bkoganbing16 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
While Myrna Loy was in one of her sit down strike moods looking for better scripts out of MGM, Rosalind Russell who Louis B. Mayer signed as a backup to Loy got her chance at a lead in Rendezvous. Her performance her was an object lesson to Loy from Mayer purportedly saying I can always get another Nora Charles.

While I personally doubt that, there is no doubt that Russell filled in admirably in this espionage comedy/drama set in Washington, DC during the days immediately following American entry to World War I. And of course her leading man is William Powell.

The film is actually based on the real life American cryptography expert H.O. Yardley who wrote a book about our code room in the War Department of Newton D. Baker. Baker himself makes a brief appearance here played by Charles Trowbridge. Yardley worked there and Powell's character is based on him.

I doubt very much if Yardley got involved with a beautiful bubbleheaded heiress like Russell who's uncle just happens to be Baker's assistant secretary Samuel S. Hinds. Nor was he playing as secret agent to trap a beautiful German spy like Binnie Barnes.

Powell's a veritable James Bond, charming and debonair as always more hindered than helped by Russell as he was in the Thin Man series by Loy. It would do well to remember that there was no Thin Man series as such yet. There was only one Thin Man movie made at the time so Mayer had a bit more leverage with Myrna back then. And Russell was almost a newcomer herself having made her debut as a second lead in another Powell-Loy film, Evelyn Prentice.

There are some good performances here by Lionel Atwill from British intelligence who is compromised and killed by Barnes and from Cesar Romero from the Russian embassy working as part of the German spy ring. Barnes herself essays the role of the cool villainess with grace and style that was her trademark.

In fact for fans of Powell and Russell of which I am both, this is an entertaining and stylish film all around.
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Spy background nicely done...curious mixture of comedy-suspense...
Neil Doyle22 July 2004
WILLIAM POWELL and ROSALIND RUSSELL have good chemistry here--although Russell gets the short end of the stick with an annoying "comic" character who disrupts everything in sight, including the plot.

The spy ingredients are nicely handled and there's a lot of behind-the-scenes decoding efforts going on in the World War I era that add interest to the storyline.

Nice to see Lionel Atwill on the good side for a change and Binnie Barnes is fine as a femme fatale heavily involved in the spy network. Cesar Romero keeps a poker-face as one of the ring members but is convincing enough in a minor role.

None of it makes for a great movie, but it passes the time quickly with an interesting glimpse of Russell before she perfected her comedy technique and Powell already at the peak of his comic timing. Cast includes Samuel S. Hinds and Charley Grapewin (Dorothy's uncle in 'The Wizard of Oz').

A rather uneasy mixture of comedy and suspense--but a stronger script would have helped considerably.
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The intricacies of decoding secret messages in 1917 is the highlight of this mixed espionage thriller.
Arthur Hausner14 February 1999
Meddlesome Rosalind Russell is positively grating in her first star billing, continually disrupting the flow of the plot and detracting from my enjoyment of the action. What idiot would spike the coffee of the chief cryptographer with sleeping pills in the midst of his trying to decode a secret enemy message with the lives of thousands of American troops hanging in the balance? "I was just trying to get you to get some sleep," was her meek response after the damage was done. And she continually does things like that! I suppose it was meant for comedy relief, but it didn't work for me. What was enjoyable was the persistent and methodical decoding methods used before computers were invented, and the follow-up in the effort to break a German spy ring, including an exciting but improbable ending. William Powell gives his usual wonderful charismatic performance, with Binnie Barnes also excellent as the femme fatale German spy and Cesar Romero very convincing as her accomplice. All other acting was uniformly good, but why was English-accented Henry Stephenson cast as a Russian ambassador?

Based on a book by Herbert O. Yardley, who was the head of the U.S. Secret Service during WWI, the film has an air of authenticity.
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okay but Powell is always worth it
blanche-229 September 2005
This is a so-so movie starring the wonderful William Powell. I swear the man could have brought the phone book to life. It's a film about a spy ring, breaking some codes, and finding the mole. Costars include young, dark-haired Cesar Romero (by the time I knew who he was, he had white hair), Binnie Barnes, Lionel Atwill, and Rosalind Russell in a very early - and very annoying role. Russell is pretty (except for what looked a clown costume turned into a woman's suit), and she was certainly a masterful actress/comedienne of stage and screen. But this was not a good part. In fact, as I was watching it, I thought, I wonder if anyone else found this character - well, not very likable. The character reminded me a little bit of Katharine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby, where Hepburn pursued Grant. But Katharine Hepburn played an airhead, and Russell portrays a down to earth woman. Somehow, her making a nuisance of herself with Powell isn't as fun as seeing Hepburn do it.

Bottom line, it's just not a great script, but it is interesting to watch.
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Interesting even if flawed
Jim Tritten4 June 2003
Not an often shown film, nor a great one, this is worth your time if TCM ever shows it again. The plot is somewhat dated but nevertheless interesting -- code breaking and spy catching -- if you ignore some of the excesses that were probably added by Hollywood. Folding in comedy, drama, and action into what would probably have made an excellent military training film, we are left unsatisfied with the overall effect. Yet there is a hint of the "Thin Man" chemistry between William Powell and Rosalind Russell that brings a smile to your lips. Fair but I am not sorry that I watched it.
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Better than Our Reviewers Think
joe-pearce-115 March 2014
I think this film is a lot more enjoyable than did almost any of the other reviewers. They say the Russell character is annoying, and some even seem to blame it on the actress, rather than on the script, with one even claiming that she tries to steal the film from Powell. If you don't like it, blame the writer(s), but not the performers. I had never heard of this film before, had no knowledge that Russell was put into it as a Loy substitute or as a possible threat to Loy's status at MGM, yet almost the first thing that hit me about the film while watching it is what an excellent Nora Charles Rosalind Russell would have made. Up to the point of seeing this film, I had never even thought of anyone measuring up to Loy in that role, but Russell might well have done so. The character may be objectionable to some viewers, but the performance is perfect for what is being asked of her. Powell, of course, is standing on the top of Mount Everest in a role like this; nobody could ever touch him. But the whole cast is very good, most especially Binnie Barnes, who even only two years after THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY VIII, has already done a marvelous job of shedding her British accent, but we're so used to her as a fairly high-comedienne that it comes as a surprise to see her here as a somewhat sympathetic-but-still-ruthless villainess, and she's really quite perfect (as she had been as Henry's last choppee!). I thought this a most enjoyable film throughout, mainly for the performances, true, but also for its lightness of touch.
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Featuring Roz Russell as Myrna Loy!
Win Bent4 June 2003
I enjoyed this movie - it wasn't a classic, but it was definitely a cut above the norm. The fascinating part was, in my opinion, seeing Rosalind Russell in a "Myrna Loy" role! It was like watching one of the Thin Man movies - seeing her interact with William Powell, speaking lines like Nora Charles, and even looking very much like Myrna Loy.
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So So
misctidsandbits15 January 2012
If you like William Powell enough (or another actor in this film) and its venue, you may flow with it. It is a weaker one to my view, and while not a throwaway, not really picked up by anyone in particular. The character Russell played was incongruous and annoying, though she was probably refreshing as a newcomer. There's a bit too much overdone flip and horsiness about her performance here and in a lot of her pictures, to my taste. Likely, it's a script flaw, but given the level of weight of the decoding project at hand, her stunts are incongruous at best. The fact that she had such easy access is also unbelievable, despite her connections by relation. Also, she doesn't really work with Powell's character. After about her third shenanigan, I think, that's it for her. He'll move on. But he trots right along and they end up together. What? That a man of his caliber would hook up with a loose cannon like that just really doesn't work. And they aren't believable together. Binnie Barnes' character, though the villainess, was easier to take down, being consistent and well enough done. This essentially war picture has its interest, but I can't say after one more run through, I would care to repeat. But I do hang onto my classics and after some time, enjoy going back for just the era and actors. One can always ogle the clothes if nothing else.
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A little better than the remake, but not much...
MartinHafer31 July 2008
During WWII, this film was remade as PACIFIC RENDEZVOUS---a perfectly dreadful film due to one glaringly bad performance. While RENDEZVOUS is certainly better than this remake, it, too, suffers from a glaringly bad performance.

In both films, you have almost two films within a film. The first is a rather exciting yarn about cryptography and an effort to smash a German wartime spy ring. The second involves an unnecessary plot with the leading character falling in love with a "kooky" girlfriend who always seems to be blundering into trouble. This combination of a serious spy story and a fluff piece just didn't work. It was very bad in this film--it was even worse in PACIFIC RENDEZVOUS. What made it bad here wasn't just the character, but that they did this with Rosalind Russell--a good actress who deserved so much better. Well, now that I think about it, leading man William Powell certainly deserved better as well. Think about it Powell and Russell and yet they still managed to make a mediocre film!
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A Decent Vehicle for Powell
Eric26621 August 2017
Most of these reviews mention how Russell was a poor replacement for Loy. I didn't really make that connection as I'm a fan of Russell's from My Girl Friday. She was much better in MGF, I will grant you, but it didn't lessen my enjoyment of Rendezvous just because Loy was not in it.

William Powell plays Bill Gordon, a genius puzzle solver, who gets duped into becoming a code breaker for the Army by Russell's Joel Carter when America enters WWI. She is the niece of the Asst Secretary of War and uses her connections to get Gordon placed at a desk in Washington D.C. to keep him near. Its supposed to be cute and romantic, but it comes off as spoiled and cruel. Gordon then goes on to break an important spy message and leads him to a ring of spies operating in town.

Powell is amazing as usual. The opening scene where Joel mistakes him for a Russian singer and Gordon plays along is vintage Powell. He had great comedic chops and timing. The code breaking scenes are fantastic as Powell conveys wit, genius, and tension as his character goes through the long hours and countless failures trying to crack the code. As I said, Russell has done better work. Her role is is to act as a ditsy foil to Powell and it doesn't work.

The supporting cast is brilliant. While Russell was a the weak link in her first major role, the rest of the cast does great work. Binnie Barnes and The Joker himself, Caesar Romero, as German spies are top notch. Lionel Atwill as Gordon's boss provides a looming presence. With a tighter script and less pratfalls from Russell, this could have been a wonderful spy drama. It seemed they tried too hard to shoehorn in the comedy instead of letting it develop naturally with the plot.

If you are fan of Powell's this is a movie that needs to be part of your viewing library. If not, focus on the code breaking scenes and its still a fun ride.
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Powell breaks a spy ring, no thanks to Russell
SimonJack25 April 2016
Warning: Spoilers
"Rendezvous" is a 1935 MGM film that has William Powell doing duty during World War I. The film is a mix of comedy, drama and action with Powell's character uncovering an espionage ring in the nation's capital. The comedy comes by way of his love interest, played perfectly by Rosalind Russell.

Powell is Bill Gordon, a former news correspondent. While working in Asia, he filled his dull moments with studying and deciphering codes. He wrote a masterly work on making and breaking codes, and it was published under a pen name – Anson Meredith. Now he's a lieutenant in the Army and just wants to get to France to do his part for Uncle Sam on the front lines. But, through a sudden encounter and romance with Joel Carter (played by Russell), Bill's future is changed.

When they first meet, Joel mistakes Bill for a Russian opera singer at an embassy party. In a hilarious scene, Bill plays it to the hilt with her and her facial expressions lead to many laughs. The next day, Bill sees Joel marching in a Woman's Suffrage parade. She's carrying a sign that reads, "I sent my sons to war. I want to vote." Bill asks if she has any grandchildren and she swaps signs with another woman. Some funny fisticuffs ensue when the police try to break up the parade because it doesn't have a permit. Later, Joel goes with Bill to catch his train, and a troop train pulls out while they are kissing. He said his train doesn't leave until the next day.

They have lunch and spend the day together. Bill tells Joel about his anonymous authorship of the code book. He doesn't know that she is the niece of the Assistant Secretary of War, John Carter. So, the next day at the train station, Joel and Bill kiss goodbye. But as Bill steps onto the train, an MP delivers new orders. He is to report to the War Department for his new assignment.

The rest of the story unfolds with intermixed scenes of espionage, romance and comedy. Binnie Barnes has a major role as Olivia, a German spy. Fine performances are given by a supporting cast that includes Cesar Romero, Lionel Atwill, Samuel Hinds, Henry Stephenson and Charley Grapewin.

This film also has some interesting scenes that recall early 20th century history. The sign atop the Park Hotel reads, "Your home in Washington, D.C. 500 fireproof rooms." That was a time when hotel and office building fires were quite common. Another scene shows telephone operators "patching through" a long distance call from Washington, D.C. to San Diego. Some seniors will recall the time that it used to take just to get a long distance through.

Most of Hollywood's leading men of sound motion pictures starred in war-related films in the first half of the 20th century. Some were action or battle films, others were in espionage or underground movies, some were in wartime dramas on the home front or in England, and some were in comedies. They were with the troops on the ground, at sea and in the air.

William Powell was in just a few such films in his career. He is probably best remembered for his role as Doc in the 1955 smash hit, "Mr. Roberts." That comedy and drama was set during World War II and is unique in that its top four roles were played by actors who had been or were to become leading actors in Hollywood. Besides Powell, it starred James Cagney, Henry Fonda and Jack Lemmon.

Powell was a consummate actor who played a variety of roles. He is most known and regarded for his comedies, and for some comedy-crime roles he played. Most notable was his Nick Charles role with Myrna Loy in the Thin Man series of movies in the 1930s and 1940s. Three of his comedies are among the funniest and best comedies of all time. Besides this fine film, I recommend those for any serious collector's library. They are, "Libeled Lady" of 1936, "Double Wedding" of 1937, and "Love Crazy" of 1941.
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Renezvous Meets Only With Partial Success **1/2
edwagreen17 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Fair picture with Roz Russell and William Powell in the lead roles as a code expert who is commandeered to decode items and in the interim uncovers a World War 1 German spy ring.

Russell portrays the niece of the head of the War Department who falls for Powell and makes sure he works at the Intelligence Agency instead of going overseas. Unaware that Powell is playing up to a German spy, played quite well by Binnie Barnes, Russell actually becomes an annoying figure here as she attempts to get her man back.

The ending almost has a "House on 92nd St." feeling but you come away with the idea that there is something missing.

Cesar Romero plays a young German spy who makes the ultimate sacrifice for the spy-ring. Also, look for Margaret Dumont, the constant comic foil in the Marx Brothers films, in a brief appearance during an auctioning off scene.
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Is this the most stupid spy film ever made
malcolmgsw10 December 2015
It is quite a bizarre mixture of spy film and Rom.The most likely reason for this is the desire of MGM to ensure that this spy film would have some appeal to all types of audiences.Maybe the factor of at least 8 writers contributes to the explanation.There are many sub plots that go totally unexplained.Caesar Romero plays a Russian officer who is part of the German spy ring.Given that the two countries were at war why was he working for the enemy.Who shot Charley Grapewin and how did he get past the guards?William Powell wants to go off to fight the war,but would never have been allowed to go because of his knowledge of intelligence work.Rosalind Russell inherits a badly written part and does her best with it.
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off-base period piece
Abby-96 July 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Other reviewers have covered the main points of this confused "comedy"/spy-mystery film very well. I would like to point out the particular insult to women and to the intelligence of both sexes in the Rosalind Russell role. It sapped the mystery of any believability--what War Department is the plaything of the daughter of its assistant secretary?? What woman could wander around in such self-centered oblivion to a war-time effort? William Powell is remarkable in his ability to carry off his role as her--huh?--husband-to-be. I mean, NOTHING bothers him. I am not so unflappable--Russell's character kept my teeth on edge throughout. Grrr. Why did I watch this chestnut? To see the beautiful Cesar Romero--that was the payoff. And the rip-off. In this movie the old saying is true: "The good die young." Virtually with the mention of his "mama" on his lips.
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Uneasy mixture of misplaced comedy and suspense
JohnHowardReid13 December 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I was going to give Rosalind Russell a thorough going over for her ridiculously heavy-handed performance in this espionage comedy-drama, but I see that the role was actually designed for Myrna Loy and that Russell was assigned at the very last moment when Loy went on strike. Anyway, Roz manages to throw the film way off balance. Incompetent direction doesn't help either, though once again, it's only Russell's scenes (of which there are many) that are incompetently handled. At some stage Sam Wood was brought into the film, but if he handled any of Russell's scenes he obviously had no more success in inducing her to tone down and stop trying to steal the movie from Powell. As for Powell, he doesn't bother to compete with Russell's aggressive scene-stealing. The rest of the movie is pretty suspenseful with some good performances from Binnie Barnes and Samuel S. Hinds. Production values are extremely lavish, even by MGM's over-the-top standards.
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Early Cryptography Drrama -- Okay For Its Genre
skallisjr22 February 2010
Warning: Spoilers
There have been not too many films based on serious "codebreaking"; this one was associated with the famous cyrptanalyst, Herbert O. Yardley. An Army officer, who wrote a biook, "Ciphering and Deciphering," under a pseudonym is identified as the author by a young lady he was dating; she was the niece of the Secretary of War, so he finds himself assigned to the somewhat beleaguered cryptological group. He turns out to be good at it, trying to find out what the Germans were transmitting, since the Germsn submsrines were sinking allied shiops. Espionage s rife in Washington, and the crypto section needs to crack the German secret cipher to determine hoe they were directing their war efforts. The officer shows his crypto talents when he first enters the group's workplace and makes an instant analysis based on the statistical distribution of characters in the cipher Over the course of his studies, he also figures out a repetitive pattern of character shifts, which enables him to determine the actual message. Spoiler: The deciphered message reveals that the US code books have been compromised, giving the rendezvous point for military and associated ships en route to support the war effort, One could quibble that actual cipher messages would be in German rather than Ebglish, and that the enciphering schemer would be a little more complex than what was presented, but that's a quibble: the average moviegoer isn't a cryptologist. Although codebreaking plays a part in the film, the machinations of the espionage agents is as important in the story as the cryptanalysis. Not a bad drama, with a touch of humor added.
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