|Index||5 reviews in total|
The Office of Strategic Services was formed when Franklin Roosevelt
decided once and for all we needed a separate intelligence organization
if in fact we were going into World War II. And in the postwar era we
needed one to compete with both friends and enemies who had been at
this for centuries more than we had.
During the war the cloak of secrecy was firmly wrapped around the OSS, but after VJ Day a whole bunch of films came out about some of their behind the lines spy missions. The best of these films were Cloak and Dagger, 13 Rue Madeleine and OSS.
This film follows the training and then the missions in occupied France of a team of OSS operatives, code-named Applejack and their controller. The controller is Patric Knowles and the operatives are Alan Ladd, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Don Beddoe, and Richard Benedict.
It's a tough dirty job with a chance of survival not real great, but this team does its job. Geraldine Fitzgerald engages in a little Mata Hari activity with a German colonel played by John Hoyt and proves quite the temptress.
Actor Joseph Crehan plays William J. Donovan briefly in the beginning of the film. Donovan, a Republican, was named by President Roosevelt to organize and head the new agency. He had a colorful career both in peace and war and was previously played by George Brent in Warner Brothers, Fighting 69th. He's worthy of a biographical film himself and I wonder why none has ever been done before.
Alan Ladd is his stalwart best. Heroics he does, but they are believable heroics. One of his best films from his Paramount era period.
Alan Ladd (John Martin) is trained as an OSS agent and sent on an
assignment in France with a team of 3 others. Their leader Don Beddoe
(Gates) is killed early on and Ladd is put in charge. The mission is to
blow up a bridge and report back on German troop numbers and movements.
Their boss Patric Knowles (Commander Brady) then flies into France to
tell Ladd that he has one more mission to complete.
This spy story is a bit long but it holds the interest well enough. The main bulk of the film takes place in France and by the end of the film only one of Ladd's group remains alive - we watch them get caught one by one. You can see how the film is going to end from about halfway through when Geraldine Fitzgerald (Elaine) tells Ladd not to come back to save her life if he feels that she is in danger. I felt that she was just as strong a character as he was in the lead role. There are some good moments during the film, eg, when Beddoe gets caught at a cafe and signals to Fitzgerald to leave.
Overall, despite the length of it, the film is made up of entertaining segments, and I enjoyed watching it the second time more than the first.
This film, shot soon after WWII's conclusion, starts out in a
semi-documentary fashion, with that time period's usual background
commentary, this time applied to the nascent stages of the O.S.S. and
how its development would enhance the war effort. However, as the core
unit gets trained, it shifts to a pretty decent spy drama, with Alan
Ladd and Ms. Fitzgerald taking the leads in their unit's task, which
inherently was to supply the Allies with German armored division
positions and to facilitate the explosion of a railroad tunnel which
had been providing the Germans with their main conduit for battle
Ladd's gender-biased character doesn't like the fact that he has to work with a woman on such a trying mission, but Ms. Fitz's character isn't falling for his hype, and she soon shows her mettle by performing her assigned tasks more than adequately. It is in this dialog between our two major protagonists that we see just how well our stars (and writers/director) handled their roles. Crisp, articulate dialog sets the pace for their encounters, which was coupled with an intelligent story line, whose development was duly enhanced by the supporting actors as well.
But as my summary title indicates, our "hero" isn't really the prototypical war hero you were used to seeing in movies of that era. Our man Ladd is asked to perform one more task by his CO and he "bites the guy's head off" with a "why me?" diatribe reminiscent of a film more ensconced in the anti-war movies of the 60's-70's. It is Ladd at his vitriolic best, barking at the CO to get somebody else, but the CO has to finally give him an official order, to which Ladd reluctantly assents. This scene ever so realistically shows the reactions of a real human soldier as opposed to some sort of Hollywood hero fabrication.
Other moments of pathos and reality occur, especially between "Sparky" and the unit's radio operator. John Hoyt's fine contribution as the German colonel also merits mentioning.
Although it may not rank amongst your all time favorites list, watch it anyway and if you don't have at least a small well of tears at the film's conclusion... Just maybe "she could have been a girl from around the corner!"
Alan Ladd and Geraldine Fitzgerald head up a team of spies in "O.S.S.,"
a 1946 film about the Office of Strategic Services formed just before
the U.S. entered World War II. Ladd and Fitzgerald are part of a group,
trained by Patric Knowles, who then parachute into France, perform acts
of sabotage and also spy activities. One of the complications is that
the Ladd character, John Martin, is a chauvinist who believes that
"Elaine Duprez" (Fitzgerald) can't do what he considers a man's job
effectively. She proves him wrong as she flirts with a German officer
and gets to travel with him by train. The sculpture she is doing of him
contains a bomb, which she passes out the window to John and he plants.
She climbs out and the two run out of the tunnel. Eventually the two
fall in love, but it's bittersweet as they watch the rest of their team
fall prey to the Germans.
This is a pretty good film, not the most exciting thing you'll ever see, but it's heightened by the acting of Geraldine Fitzgerald and the presence of Alan Ladd. It's hard to think of Ladd as a great actor; he was very limited, but what he did, he did very well. Handsome, tough, with a no-nonsense line delivery, he was perfect starring in the noir films for which he is justifiably famous and, of course, Shane.
The attractive Patric Knowles does a good job, as does the rest of the cast. "O.S.S." is effective in that you care about the characters. There is some tension, though probably not enough, and nowhere near enough action for this kind of movie. If it were any other actors, it wouldn't be worth seeing; but given the cast, it's a decent watch.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's interesting to speculate what critics and publics made of this back in 1946 because it's difficult to find anything positive to say about it in 2007 (it's just aired on TV). The feeling is that Paramount contracter Ladd was being 'punished' by the studio for some real or imagined misdemeanour, something that was par for the course in the days of the 'Studio System' but maybe it was one of those projects that look good on paper but sink on the screen. Several times the screenplay takes refuge in the old 'once out of the well' gimmick; for example Fitzgerald is on a train with German Officer Paul Hoyt and a bust she sculpted of him which will be used as a bomb; the train halts, Fitzgerald gets rid of Hoyt, hands the bust to Ladd, waiting outside the train and climbs out the window to join him. Hoyt returns, realises what's going on and sets off a hue and cry. Ladd and Fitzgerald have just checked into Roach Motel and they're not gonna be checking out. Then: Cut. Another time, another place. How'd they get away? You tell me. Towards the end of the film Ladd and Fitzgerald are the only two survivors of the four that comprised 'Applejack'; Their chief, Patrick Holt, flies in supposedly to fly them out - they're about five minutes ahead of the Gestapo - but instead orders Ladd to perform another mission elsewhere. Fitzgerald opts to go with him and Holt leaves them to it. So there they are, right in the middle of East Jesus and the Gestapo can now be only two or three minutes behind. Then: Cut; we've done it again; now it's days/weeks/months later and they're miles away and in different clothes. Come on, fellas, give us some credit for intelligence. After months of rigorous training which includes not eating in the American style (cutting the food then transferring the fork to the left hand) Applejack 'leader' Don Beddoe on more or less his very first day in France makes this elementary mistake and is arrested thus allowing Ladd to assume leadership. There's absolutely NO feel of being in France and Ladd wears his 'American' suit and hat throughout. For a two-fisted 'romantic' hero Ladd does precious little in either department. Lest this sound harsh on a leading man let me say that I LIKE Ladd; I'd never accuse him of being a great actor and I can't imagine him playing Clifford Odets, Arthur Miller or Tennessee Williams or playing comedy as well as Jack Lemon but within his own parameters he was a fine actor and usually gave value. In sum I feel this whole project was misguided to say the least and the least said about it the better.
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