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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
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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This is a fast-paced, sometimes slightly confusing but never boring semi-documentary- style FBI drama about the hunt for a ring of Nazi spies in the US in the years leading up to World War Two. The nastiest Nazis are played by such villainous actors as George Sanders, Martin Kosleck and Hans von Twardowski; somewhat softer but still powerful characterizations are supplied by Frances Lederer as a misfit with dreams of grandeur and Paul Lukas as a cultivated and respected doctor who lectures at gatherings of the German- American Bund. They are all scheming to steal military secrets for the use of the Third Reich in its ambitions to conquer America. Edward G. Robinson plays the FBI official who tracks them down. If you are familiar with later movies like House on 92nd Street, Double Indemnity, Hangmen Also Die, They Drive By Night, The Stranger and Man Hunt you will see that all of these actors were past masters of the types of roles they played therein.
Based on a true story of a spy ring in the Yorkville section of Manhattan, these frightening individuals are brought to compelling life under the no-nonsense direction of Anatole Litvak. Although the film can certainly be described as propagandistic, particularly with the bombastic Walter Winchellesque narration, who can argue that something sinister wasn't afoot in those days and that America wasn't directly threatened by a powerful and totalitarian rival? Sure, America was not perfect either, but it is easy to be roused by the spirit of independence and individual liberty that is evoked by the good guys trapping and defeating the bad guys.
One of the best scenes is the interrogation of Frances Lederer by the seasoned FBI agent Robinson who cleverly yet forcefully appeals to Lederer's vanity to coax him into confessing and naming names. Paul Lukas is also gripping as the suave and confident doctor who by degrees crumbles in defeat after first being cornered by the FBI and then set upon by the Gestapo. Unfortunately the fate of some of the spies is not resolved at the end and the narrative just seems to drop them in favor of a blitzkrieg of wartime propaganda (much of it added after the film's initial release to update it for 1940 audiences). According to the FBI historian who appeared on Turner Classic Movies to introduce and discuss the film, this anti- espionage effort was largely a failure but the FBI learned a great deal from it and got better at its job in ensuing years. Part documentary, part detective story, part human drama, part cat-and-mouse chase adventure. Something for everyone.
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