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How to Operate Behind Enemy Lines (1943)

6.5
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A training film for OSS agents who are to be dropped behind enemy lines, covering cover and concealment, ambush techniques, etc.

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A training film for OSS agents who are to be dropped behind enemy lines, covering cover and concealment, ambush techniques, etc.

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world war two | espionage | See All (2) »

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Documentary | War

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Of Spies and Strategems.
3 December 2014 | by (Deming, New Mexico, USA) – See all my reviews

I wouldn't have believed it but John Ford plays an important role as an actor in this production. In the part of an interviewer dealing with an applicant for the OSS, Ford isn't bad actually. But he needed a director. Seated behind his desk, grilling the recruit, he keeps waving his hand, the one with the pipe in it, as if trying to hide his face -- the features not already hidden behind his dark glasses. Maybe it's meant as a joke because his judgment about the new recruit turns out to be mistaken.

Some of this will already be familiar to viewers, from watching James Bond movies or "The Odessa File" or "The Jackal." But some of it is rather new, and ALL of it was new in 1943, which is why I assume it was classified until the post-war years.

Basically the story of two new recruits, Al (the good one) and Charlie (the careless one). Charlie goes to "Enemyland" in La Porta, drinks, flirts with the waitresses, goofs off, and poses as a fisherman.

Al becomes a mechanic in a "Falcon" factory in Enemyland and he's cautious, leads an unassuming life -- "the kind of man who always kept to himself". It probably helps that Al has a face full of meaningless mansuetude with all the interest of a Nutrisystem Lunch.

Some of the details are interesting. A British agent reveals himself when he uses a British "hair grease". Even Al, the summum bonum of spydom, makes an error when he nervously stubs out a half-used cigarette in a country where cigarettes are a precious commodity.

It's still hard to believe we're watching Ford play such a role. The only performance he ever mentioned was that of a KKK rider in "Birth of a Nation" -- the one wearing glasses. A reporter once asked him if he'd ever considered playing the lead in one of his Westerns. "What? With MY face?"

But, really, I for one learned a great deal from this movie. I learned that after one day trying to pose as a native in Enemyland, I'd be a dead OSS agent. I hope they'd bury me in the Alter Friedhof Weimar, near Goethe.


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