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In 1780 Major John Boulton is recruited by Colonial intelligence as a counterspy who will feign desertion to the British forces. His mission is to discover the identity of an American traitor with the code name Gustavus. Although prominent Tory Dr. Odell suspects Boulton of being a double agent, the spy wins the friendship and respect of British spymaster Major John Andre and, in doing so, discovers that the traitor is none other than American hero, General Benedict Arnold, who is planning to surrender the key colonial position of West Point to the English. Written by
Ironically, the narrator Paul Frees was a spy. According to author Peter Guralnick (in "Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley"), Frees was an undercover narcotics agent for the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs in the 1960s. See more »
"Blow the Man Down" is heard on the soundtrack during a scene involving the man o' war. The sea shanty was composed anonymously in the 1860s, eighty-odd years after the incidents in this film. See more »
Perhaps A Little Bit Nicer Than The Real Revolution
One of the intriguing aspects of this historical drama is the way the "Tories" or British American Loyalists are portrayed, and the sort of gloss given to their ardent support for King George III. In many ways the American Revolution was definitely a family affair, in that some of the wealthier colonial families were split asunder by it. If there is a strong criticism to be made of this film, it is that perhaps the people in this story are made out to be a little bit nicer than they were in real life.
In some regards, the actions of the character of Major Boulton, played by Cornel Wilde, make him the least likable member of the cast and the flaw in the storyline. He seems to vary from being a prickly kind of patriot to being a kind of 'anything for the cause,' fellow. This film does concentrate heavily on the notions of personal honor and personal prestige which were a major social 'norm' in that day and age.
In its subtext, the fact that about twenty-five percent of the colonial population was decidedly pro-British is glossed over, too. But the strength of the Tory element is not obviously maligned, although the good doctor character is about eighty-five percent upper class twit ( to steal a fine phrase from Monty Python's Flying Circus ). Anne Francis does a whole lot with a rather thin section of the script, and it stands out. She was a good choice for the woman of divided loyalties, a 'gal' who was rather more modern than the social conventions of that day might have allowed -- if there had not been a life and death struggle going on.
One good aspect of the film is the way the rivalries of the American revolutionary leaders degenerated into outright jealousies, and how these personal conflicts very nearly sabotaged the entire revolutionary effort. All in all, the leading characters are very well drawn, the minor characters are not just human "props" and the fight scenes are believable enough to carry the dramatic action.
This is a great spy movie. It's not quite a great historical drama, but it does satisfy well enough. It rates a seven largely because Cornel Wilde is so deeply immersed in his role, and does it so well, and because Anne Francis makes the most of her supporting effort.
The color print used on Turner Classic Movies was very clear, as well, and so it was an enjoyable presentation in that important regard.
Hope it runs again soon.
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