Pros: Good script, snappy dialog.
Cons: The women's hairstyles and makeup is very anachronistic -- pure 1960's
Every now and then I get lucky and find myself watching a film that hits all the right notes. And I am discovering that as I get older, I've started to pay more attention to films that were made in the past, where the focus was more on providing a good story as compared to spectacle, which seems that most films focus on these days when espionage is involved.
As the film starts, World War II is building up, and a petty criminal by the name of Eddie Chapman (Christopher Plummer) is rotting away in a very secure prison on the English island of Jersey. But change is coming in the form of the Germans, who overran the island in 1940, and Chapman with a great show of bravado, manages to get himself released into the care of the Germans. Even more unusual, he becomes a spy for the Germans, working as a team under Baron von Grunen (Yul Brynner) and his beautiful compatriot, the Countess (Romy Schneider).
And as is common with many of the films of this sort, Chapman finds himself as part of a team, skilled in the arts of spying, codes and explosives. While the baron recognizes the potential of his newest recruit, not everyone is happy about Eddie's arrival. Especially Colonel Steinhager (Gert Fröbe), a former policeman who suspects that Eddie is lying about everything. All the while, Eddie has to tread a very careful line, and keep his own skin intact.
Especially when he has to go to England and perform an act of sabotage, and then turns to the Allies with the outrageous proposal to act as a double agent...
I ended up really liking this one. Terence Young, best known for his Bond films, gives rip-roaring direction to this adventure story. While it's certainly not perfect, and a definite product of the 1960's, what with the women being reduced to sexual toys at best, it does hold up well over the decades. One big surprise here is that the Nazi's are given character and depth, with a certain weariness towards the end that lifts them out of the usual portrayal as evil automotons.
What is the kicker in this film is that all of this is very loosely based on fact. Eddie Chapman was indeed a real person, as he is portrayed here, with a great deal of charm where women were concerned, but Eddie wasn't above using blackmail to keep his wallet well-padded. Chapman published his memoirs in the fifties, and appears to have led just as an adventurous life after the war. He would pass away in 1997. There are two books written about Eddie Chapman, Agent Zigzag and Operation Mincemeat, both of which are written by Ben Mcintyre.
The two performances that I really enjoyed were Christopher Plummer as Chapman and Yul Brynner as his handler. The snap between the characters is rather palpable throughout the film, with Eddie giving a certain amount of snark which is ably countered by the Baron's aristocratic, icy demenour. The fact that both actors are extremely good at what they do just adds to the pleasure of watching them work together.
My biggest complaint here is that the women's hairstyles and makeup is clearly of the 60's, with the overdone eyes, and upswept hairdos. But that's only a middling nit.
All in all, this one gets a solid four and a half star rating, rated up to five, and a recommendation for anyone who has read the books about Chapman, or wants a look at one of the more outrageous tales out of World War II. It's a very satisfying film and one that I intend to watch again in the future.
Five stars. Recommended.