Singing an ode to O.S.S. right after the end of WWII, Fritz Lang’s black-and-white Hollywood espionage thriller a bit more piquant than an adequate potboiler thanks to a dapper Gary Cooper valiantly takes on the role of Prof. Alvah Jesper, a scientist-turned-amateur-spy, ham-handed but always bullish on the prospects.
During the heyday of WWII, knowing that his former colleague, the distinguished nuclear scientist Katerin Lodor (Thimig) is working for Germany, fellow scientist Mr. Jesper volunteers to touch base with her in Switzerland and tries to dissuade her from her involvement, but a tenderfoot Jesper bungles the mission and Katerin is dispatched in the action, chastened by the aftermath, he is given a second chance to rescue another scientist, the Italian professor Polda (Sokoloff) in Rome who is under rigorous surveillance by the Gestapos, the situation is more exacting and parlous notwithstanding,Jesper doesn’t refrain from taking his chance to wooGina (Palmer), a hardened partisan fighter, and slowly makes her thaw out from a bitter and cynical facade, before a final smackdown lurking near the coda and not everyone is able to get out to see the daylight.
Truth to be told, this pre-Bond spy flick is too anodyne and mawkish albeit Mr. Lang’s handsome mise-en-scène shimmering with a quintessential noir-ish luster, the most riveting moment is a black cat’s scare in the darkness, but the tension soon is eclipsed by the romantic pas-de-deux, tentatively burrowing into the mental hardship in wartime through Gina’s wounded psyche, and Ms. Palmer doesn’t make her Gina sitting and pining in a thankless love interest role, that is something bracing to watch.
Max Steiner’s full-blown score is sonorous but effective, and the fitful fistfight actions are primordially unconvincing, but, on a brighter side, one can hardly resist the charm of a come-hither Cooper meekly does the bidding of a heroine governed by either paranoia or acumen, and after all, the Allies haven’t descended to the same“better-dead-than-alive” approach carried by the evil antagonists when an ominous crunch transpires, indeed, it is an anonymous commodity fabricated out of Hollywood’s boosterism of patriotic selflessness, added with a soupçon of zest in a maestro’s hands.
referential point: Guy Hamilton’s GOLDFINGER (1964, 6.3/10); Hitchcock’s NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959, 8.2/10).