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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
Four character names within the movie were slightly different than those names listed in the end credits: Paul Lukas, billed as Dr. Kassell, was actually Dr. Kassel within the movie. Similarly, Lya Lys was Erica Wolff (not Wolf), Hedwiga Reicher was Mrs. Kassel (not Kassell) and Sig Ruman was Krogmann (not Krogman). 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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With the Nazi Party now illegal in Germany but still legal in the United States with several active members, it's not surprising that the American Bund had such a large membership in 1939 when Hitler was at the height of his power and was rapidly augmenting the Third Reich with territory stolen from his neighbors. Since the United States was officially neutral at the time, it is surprising that this film received such a wide distribution. One must remember, however, that FDR early on recognized the threat to world security, including the danger to our interests, from Der Fuher. He was in the process of asking Congress for the approval of Lend Lease and worked closely with Winston Churchill following the fiasco of the Munich appeasement which ousted the incompetent Neville Chamberlain.
The movie turns out to be somewhat of a mixed bag. There are really three main elements composing the film. From time to time there is a documentary-style narration by John Deering of actual events taking place in Europe such as the Anschluss; second, there is the main story which is well written, directed, and acted concerning a spy network in the United States attempting to lure the minds of German Americans into the Nazi trap with help from the Gestapo, Hitler's private police force of bullying goons; third, is the preachy part filled with patriotic talk, some noble, some propaganda, some prophetic. The best element is the actual story with standout performances by: Edward G. Robinson, who doesn't appear until the movie is almost half over, George Sanders playing a Nazi Stooge who is a go between for agents in Germany and their counterparts in the United States, Paul Lukas playing a medical doctor who mixes medical facts with Nazi myth and who gives stirring speeches for the Party to get recruits and to hold his own ring of spies together, Francis Lederer as a Nazi agent who places fame and fortune above all else including the master race, and Dorothy Tree playing Hilda a true believer until she breaks under pressure from FBI agent Ed Renard (Edward G. Robinson).
Whether you like this film depends a lot on how much you like espionage flicks dealing with World War II. As a spy movie from 1939, "Confessions of a Nazi Spy" holds up well. It comes across not as a relic from a bygone era but as an exciting movie thriller based on historical events.
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