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Prior to the United States entry into World War II, Nazi spies try to steal American military secrets. Among those whose passions are roused is Kurt Schneider who was court-martialed and dishonorably discharged from the US Army. Schneider is not very bright and is easily swayed by the oratory of Dr. Karl Kassel, a prominent physician who is eventually made the head of the Nazi spy ring. When Schneider's contact is arrested in Scotland, the US military asks the FBI to root out the spies. Agent Edward Renard is put in charge of the case and they methodically arrest all who have been spying. Written by
This was the first anti-Nazi movie made in Hollywood before the start of World War II. See more »
According to the film the spies are allegedly working for "German Naval Intelligence." In reality no such agency ever existed. The Abwehr was the joint intelligence service that coordinated foreign espionage for the entire German military. Before and during most of WWII the Abwehr was headed by an Admiral (Wilhelm Canaris.) Also, Canaris and Himmler, the head of the SS, detested one another and would never have cooperated as shown in the film (the producers may not have known this in 1939.) See more »
Some months ago, various persons appeared in the federal courts of New York City and the Panama Canal Zone, charged with the crime of espionage against the armed forces of the United States. Called to the witness stand, they swore to tell "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God". The story brought out at those trials is stranger than fiction, revealing the existence of a vast spy ring operating against the naval, military, and air forces of the United...
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Confessions of a Nazi Spy was made anticipating the fact that American involvement in World War II was inevitable so it is better to know thy enemy. Based on FBI files, Confessions of a Nazi Spy was a story about both the German American Bund and its links to the Nazi regime and the espionage and sabotage it tried to do.
The film is done in a documentary style, more popular over at 20th Century Fox than at Warner Brothers, with films like The House on 92nd Street and Calling Northside 777 as examples of the style.
The Nazis shown here are straight up villains be they respected physician Paul Lukas or disgruntled plebeian Francis Lederer. I think Lederer modeled his character on Bruno Hauptmann, the Lindbergh baby kidnapper and maybe the most unpopular man in America at one point. Hauptmann's appearance and voice were in newsreels to study and isn't it ironic that the man he wronged became a spokesman for appeasement.
On the other hand Edward G. Robinson is quite the stand up hero as the FBI agent investigating the Bund. Robinson was one of the bigger anti-Nazi activists in Hollywood and was proud to be included in what he considered a very important message.
No subtlety used in this film. For those not interested in the anti Nazi message, Confessions of a Nazi Spy does succeed on the entertainment level as well. But I will say that playing America the Beautiful over the end credits was a bit much even for audiences in 1939.
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