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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"They Came to Blow Up America" 1943
"They Came to Blow Up America" 1943 is a wartime spy film released by 20th Century Fox in 1943. The film is based on the German sabotage operation named, Pastorius. In late 1942, the Germans landed men on the Eastern seashore to engage in acts of sabotage. They were however quickly grabbed up by the FBI and put on trial. This film offers a reason for why the men were captured so quickly. The film stars George Sanders, Ward Bond, Dennis Hoey, Sig Ruman, Poldi Dur, Anna Sten and Robert Barrat.
This one starts with German American, George Sanders, returning home after several years abroad. He tells his parents, Elsa Janseen and Ludwig Stossel that he has joined the local German Bund. His father is shocked by this bit of info. Stossel is a proud American and tells Sanders so.
Sanders is at the meeting talking with fellow Bund member, Ted Nurney, who has been recalled back to Germany. The man tells Sanders that he is to be trained as a saboteur. Now the local Constabulary boots in the door and raids the place. Sanders and his new pal, Nurney, bolt out the back and hot foot it down the dark alley. The Police have the alley covered and Nurney is shot dead when he pulls a revolver.
Sanders heads home to tell his parents that he is fleeing the country and going to Germany. Now we find out that Mister Sanders is actually an undercover FBI man. Ward Bond plays the FBI Agent in charge. He gives Sanders his orders which are to now pretend to be the dead man Nurney.
Now the film jumps a few months and Sanders in enrolled in the German sabotage school. The course includes how to use various types of explosives and where to place them for maximum damage.
There is a side plot thrown into the mix with a love interest, Poldi Dur. Dur is really a member of the German Underground. Sanders, is called in by the Gestapo to help them investigate Miss Dur. Dur is soon gobbled up by the Gestapo and sent off to "be questioned". Sanders, however, springs the pretty Miss Dur and has her whisked out of the country. (He of course disposes of the Gestapo guards using his newly learned sabotage skills)
Sanders, is soon at the top of the class at the sabotage school. He is assigned to lead the first group which will be landed on Long Island by submarine. Meanwhile, back in the States, FBI man Bond has told Sanders' father about his son really being an FBI type. He tells Stossel that he must not tell anyone about his son.
Needless to say Stossel cannot keep his trap shut, and blabs to his doctor, Sig Ruman. Ruman is of course a Nazi and the info is soon on its way to Berlin. In Germany, Sanders and the first group have already set sail in their U-boat for America.
They reach Long Island and are unloaded. This is before the Gestapo head, Dennis Hoey can send off orders to kill Sanders. The entire group is soon captured and put on trial. Sanders is quietly shuffled off into hiding after trial. But not before putting the bag on Nazi agent Ruman.
The whole production has a rushed look to it, with the less than sterling screenplay being the main culprit. The actors do okay with what they have and deliver solidly for most part. Not great, but still a decent example of a wartime flag waver.
The director, Edward Ludwig is best known for several John Wayne films he directed, THE FIGHTING SEABEES, WAKE OF THE RED WITCH and BIG JIM McLAIN.
Anna Sten has a small bit as the wife of the man Sanders is pretending to be. She just about gums up the mission, but is neatly disposed of by Sanders. Future noir icon, Charles McGraw has a small bit as a German saboteur. Look close and you can spot future "Hogan's Heroes" star, John Banner in a quick, unbilled role as a Gestapo man.
The always competent Lucien Andriot handles the cinematography duties. The man worked on over 350 different films and television episodes between, 1909 and 1962.
The first person we see in this movie is Ludwig Stossel, best
remembered as the father of Lou Gehrig in PRIDE OF THE YANKEES. He is
German, naturlich, and has spent the last twenty years teaching in
Milwaukee, so of course, his son is George Sanders with that British
Public School Accent. Oh well.
Still, the story is a good one, based on a true incident, and for an apparent B movie, the acting, direction and photography -- by the wonderful and sadly forgotten Lucien Andriot -- are well up to par. Notice, for example, whose picture is on the dartboard at SS headquarters. And besides Mr. Stossel, we see some wonderful supporting actors, including Anna Sten, Ward Bond and Sig Ruman. So, while this is not a great movie, it is certain worth your time
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a hastily slapped-together but enjoyable fictional treatment of
an incident from the early years of the war, in which half a dozen Nazi
saboteurs land on the coasts of Long Island and Florida with
instructions to attack aluminum plants and other targets.
Some of the scenes are dragged out and lack pep despite the strutting and throwing of ceramics, but they're not really boring because the whole story is rushing headlong at such a pace. (A more important weakness is that these comic scenes are supposed to be funnier than they are.) The film needed an editing that it didn't get, probably because the incident itself took place in June, 1942, and the film was rushed through to cash in on the sensation. That's what I mean by "hasty." George Sanders is the fabricated FBI agent sent to Germany under another identity. His mission: attend the Nazi espionage school and find out what they're up to. But unexpectedly he finds himself ordered to keep an eye on a blond suspected of being a dissident -- Poldi Dur, who is a winning presence. He saves her from the jaws of death, so to speak, and then is assigned to lead the team of genuine saboteurs.
The saboteurs land in a fog at Amagansett, Long Island, and begin to dispose of the evidence of their intentions. Two points about this scene.
One is that I was glad they landed at Amagansett because the civilians there are all too comfortable. It's a tony residential beach-front settlement and everyone sits around and listens to Borodin, nibbles on the occasional amuse-bouche, and sips martinis while playing bridge. A little entropy never hurt anyone.
The second point is that these miscreants are interrupted by the arrival of a Coast Guardsman, who appears to accept their lies and the three-hundred dollar bribe (the historical amount). However, this Coast Guardsman takes off and reports the entire incident to his superiors, leading to the ultimate capture of all eight of them, and the execution of six. I thought it was an accurate depiction of Coast Guard integrity. I spent four of the most productive years of my life in the U. S. Coast Guard, and everyone I worked with was a treasure. Well, except for one chief boatswain's mate whose name, Montmorency Queeg Malon, will go unmentioned here.
I'm having fun at the expense of the movie but I'm following its spirit. None of it is to be taken seriously. The suspense is limited because it's evident from the start that nothing tragic will happen. And it doesn't. The good guys win. The bad guys are blown up.
There are some decent documentaries available free on YouTube that deal with "Operation Pastorius," as the mission was called.
"They Came to Blow up America" looks to be a B movie. It stars the
suave, always reliable George Sanders as Steelman, an American of
German heritage who is recruited by the FBI to infiltrate the Nazis as
a spy. Even his parents believe that he has joined the Nazi movement.
He is given the identity of someone else and sent to Germany,
eventually ending up on a saboteur mission.
The film is told in flashback, with the FBI man who recruited Steelman (Ward Bond) explaining to an underling what really went on.
Sanders is good. He played villains well, so during the war, he was often cast as a Nazi! The supporting cast includes Anna Sten and Ludwig Stossel, who plays Steelman's father.
Ward Bond was a best friend of Clark Gable, and I couldn't help but notice the similarity of their voices in this film. Even their speaking rhythm was similar. Close your eyes, and you'd swear it was Gable.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
(Some Spoilers) Somewhat fictional account of the cracking of a Nazi
sabotage ring by the FBI back in 1942 which in fact the FBI had very
little or nothing to do with. The truth is that one of the saboteurs
involved in the plot to blow up America suddenly got cold feet and
ratted out his comrades to save his own neck. These lame brain Nazis,
the cream of crop in fact, saboteurs screwed up as soon as they landed,
from a German U-Boat, on US soil. It's when they were spotted by a US
Navy sentry and offered him $300.00 in US currency in order for him to
shut up and not report them! This instead of just killing him like any
other nations saboteurs, like the US & UK, would do as a matter of
policy! As well as keeping themselves from getting caught and executed
as enemy spies!
The film has patriotic German/American Carl Steelman, George Sanders,infiltrate a chapter of the German American Bund and later take up the identity of fellow member Ernst Reiter, Fred Nurney, who was shot and killed by the police when they raided the Bund's headquarters. This raid which took place while the US was already at war with the Axis powers made no sense at all! Since the Bund was disbanded, by its own leadership, soon after the Jananese attack on Pearl Harbor with Nazi Germany, Japan's ally, declaring war on the USA!
Steelman working undercover for the FBI sails to Germany from New York City when at the time-in 1942-all traveling from the USA to Germany was suspended because of the state of war that existed between the two countries. Steelman then, after being thoroughly checked out by the Nazi Gestapo, ends up being trained by the Nazis as a saboteur under the name of the deceased Ernst Reiter.
You would think that the German Government would have had at least one photo of Reiter to make sure if Steelman was really him but for some strange reason it didn't! The Nazis are so brainless that even when the late Ernst Reiter wife, Anna Sten,complains to them that Steelman is not her husband but an impostor they believe him not her with Steelman telling the head of Nazi sabotage operations Col. Taeger, Dennis Holey,that she's insane. Didn't Frau Reiter have at least a wedding photo of her and her late husband to prove that Steelman was in fact not him? Or better yet didn't she have any friends, like members of the wedding, to vouch for her that Steelman wasn't her husband Ernst?
Steelman with Frau Reiter declared insane and later executed, on orders of Col. Taeger, is now freed to sabotage the Nazi plan to blow up America by blowing up the Nazi U-Boat that dropped him and his fellow Nazi saboteurs off on the beaches of Long Island New York. Now safe at home, the USA, and in no danger from Hitler's Gestapo Steelman fingers, or expose, the Nazi saboteurs to the proper authorities the FBI and his boss Chief Craig, Ward Bond.
There's even a comical side to the movie involving Steelman's father Julius, Ludwig Stossel, who disowned his son thinking that he's a loyal Nazi not a patriotic American like himself. With Julius sick and what looked like on his death bed Chief Craig, against his better judgment, comes to visit the sick old man to assure him that his son Carl is actually working undercover for the FBI against the hated Nazis.
***SPOILER ALERT*** With his son's patriotism now confirmed what does the silly old guy do but shoots his mouth off to everyone within earshot, after promising Chief Craig not to, about how patriotic his son Carl is! One of those whom Julius tells about Carl's secret mission is Dr. Herman Baumer, Sig Ruman, who's secretly working for the Nazis as a top spy in America! luckily Dr. Baumer's warning to the German Government about Carl Steelman's anti-German activities got there too late for the Nazis to both arrest and execute him before he actually got on shore and turned in the saboteurs, who had no idea what was going on, that were with him.
Wartime propaganda at its best showing how the US Government was on top of things in preventing a 9/11 type, German not Islamic, terrorist attack engineered by the Nazis. It did in fact prevent it but it did it only with the help of the Nazis, or one Nazi who chickened out, themselves!
At the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) during World War II,
mining company lawyer George Sanders (as Carl Steelman) has been taken
to court. Supposedly, he brought eight Germans to the US (Amagansett,
Long Island) to blow up America. The oddly-accented German-American
Sanders has his story told in flashback. A suspected Nazi sympathizer,
Sanders is recruited as a spy and goes to Germany. While posing as
"Ernst Reiter", Sanders becomes romantically involved with attractive
blonde Poldy Dur (as Helga Lorenz), another spy. Their relationship, as
watched by the Nazis, is one of the more lively parts of the drama.
Also interesting is when the wife of "Ernst Reiter" (Anna Sten) pays
Sanders a surprise visit, and when his father (Ludwig Stossel) shares
some exciting news from the FBI (Ward Bond) with his doctor (Sig
Ruman). However, predictability takes away most of the story's
***** They Came to Blow Up America (5/7/43) Edward Ludwig ~ George Sanders, Poldi Dur, Anna Sten, Ludwig Stossel
If you want to know about Guantanamo and the precedent for all those
enemy alien combatants being kept there, a viewing of They Came To Blow
Up America is in order. Given the title and when it came out I found it
to be more restrained in the flag waving than I thought.
Not to say it doesn't have its problems and a more factual basis in the story might be in order if the tale is ever retold. They Came To Blow Up America finds George Sanders returning home from South America to New York, specifically the Yorkville area in Manhattan where German Americans predominated back in the day and where in some quarters the German American Bund was popular.
Not in his household though, his parents Ludwig Stossel and Elsa Janssen are heartbroken over George going to the Nazis. In fact Ludwig takes to bed physically ill over it. Ludwig Stossel and Elsa Janssen the year before played Lou Gehrig's parents in Pride of the Yankees.
Of course the Nazis recruit Sanders and he goes off to Nazi Germany in secret to their spy/saboteur school run by the Gestapo. Note the similarities of those training scenes to scenes later in our films about the OSS in 13 Rue Madeline, Cloak and Dagger, and OSS.
But fear not Ludwig and Elsa, turns out this is all one big ruse by the FBI, George is working with them to sabotage the saboteurs and FBI agent Ward Bond is his handler in today's terms. Of course when Bond like a dope tells Stossel feeling sorry for the old gent, he nearly blows up their plans.
It wasn't as bad a bit of flag waving as I thought it would be and the story does have a factual basis. Still everyone involved has done better work.
After all Ward Bond did star in Hitler, Dead or Alive. Go screen that one before you criticize They Came To Blow Up America.
This is a fine example of the kind of patriotic films that were
produced by Hollywood during the Second World War, a far cry from the
anti-American, terrorist-sympathetic views being promoted by
George Sanders, a successful mining engineer working in South America, returns home to visit his German immigrant parents, who are unashamedly patriotic about the USA. They are dismayed to find that Sanders is working for the German-American Bund, a pro-Nazi group active in the early years of the war.
But there is more to the story. The plot gets more involved, as secret missions and identities are revealed, and betrayals threaten the lives of the main characters. In the end, a gang of Nazi saboteurs is rounded up and executed, much to everyone's satisfaction.
THEY CAME TO BLOW UP America (what an ominous title for us today!) reveals how attitudes have changed in the film industry over the past 60+ years. This film is not ashamed to be overtly pro-American. No one hesitates when it comes to punishing members of anti- American organizations. And no one bats an eye when a teacher talks about using his belt to keep ornery grade school kids in line! This is a fine example of a WW2 espionage movie designed to stir the sentiments of the American viewing audience.
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