Saturday September 30th 2023

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Movie Corner: Confessions of a Nazi Spy

Warner Bros.
Black & White

3.5/5 Stars


Howard McQuitter II

Often forgotten but influential in world history, especially in America, before and during World War II, is the movement of Nazi sympathizers. To shed some light on Nazi spies here and abroad at the time, Hollywood studio moguls like Jack Warner (Warner Bros.) and Louis B. Mayer (MGM Studios) produced films to let their audiences see in theaters stories of Nazi sympathizers and Nazi opponents played by actors. However, Nazi sympathizers did live in real time and not just on screen. One of the motion pictures at the time is director Anatole Litvak’s Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939) that gets entangled in who are spies, who squeals on the other (intentional or unintentional), who gets away, and who catches the culprits through artful tactics.

In Litvak’s movie FBI agent Edward Renard (Edward G. Robinson) is determined to out the Nazi sympathizers in America and elsewhere, if possible. He knows the German American Bund is, for the most part, a series of clandestine Nazi movements. (The German American Bund actually operated in Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Chicago, New York City, etc.) A Mrs. Mary McLaughlin (Eily Malyon) runs a clandestine international post office out of her home in a bucolic village in Scotland. She thinks no one will discover her deeds in such a “hidden” place. Her little operation is under the cloak of the German Bund, a secret society hellbent on the “purification” of the German “race”. Back in New York, the German American Bund is headed by Kurt Schneider (Francis Lederer), a Nazi spy, who has orders from Germany to report to the Nazis how many American troops are assigned in the New York area.

Franz Schlager (George Sanders) is told to make contact with Schneider and give him a new task. But when Schneider sends a letter to the Nazi Party in Germany it is intercepted in Scotland leading to the arrest of Mrs. MacLaughlin. But guess what? Edward Renard, the relentless F.B.I. agent, and his fellow agents investigate her home finding damning evidence. The evidence points to Nazi espionage activities in the United States. Shortly, federal agents discover one of Schneider’s assignments and arrest the Nazi operative just when least expected. The agents bring Schneider to Renard for questioning. Schneider is at first reluctant to reveal his connections.

Renard’s savviness is able to get a complete confession from him. Hilda Keinhauer (Dorothy Tree) is implicated as a Nazi spy by Schneider leading to her arrest by federal agents. She in turns unintentionally implicates D. Karl F. Kassell (Paul Lukas). There again, Renard is successful at getting Kassell to crack. Dr. Julius Gustav Krogman (Sig Ruman), a German government official, makes a desperate appeal before Renard to insist Keinhauer had lied because she is coerced into signing a false confession. Of course, Renard doesn’t buy Krogmann’s plea and kicks him out of his office. Renard concludes the German government is complicit in the espionage crimes. Renard tries to protect Kassell from Hintze (Lionel Royce) and Wildebrandt (Henry Victor), but the two men kidnap Kassell forcing him on the German liner S.S. Bismarck for Germany. Renard tries to stop the ship but fails. When Kassell arrives in Germany he’s forced to charge the U.S. government with harassment and intimidation against the F.B.I.

Warner Bros.

Cast: Edward G. Robinson (Edward Renard), Paul Lukas (Dr. Karl Kassell), Francis Lederer (Kurt Schneider), Henry O’Neill (Attorney Kellogg), Mrs. Mary McLaughlin (Eily Malyon), Grace Stafford (Mrs. Schneider), Joe Sawyer (Werner Renz), Celia Sibelius (Mrs. Liza Kassell), Lionel Royce (Hintz), John Voigt (Johaaa Westphal), Henry Victor (Wildebrandt), Frederick Vogeding (Captain Richter), William Vaughn (Captain von Eicher), George Sanders (Franz Schlager), Dorothy Tree (Hilda (Keinhauer), James Stephenson (British military intelligence agent), Sig Ruman (Dr. Julius Gustav Krogmann), Hans von Twardowski (Max Helldorf). Director: Anatole Litvak. Screenwriters: John Wexley and Milton Krims.
Music Director: Leo F. Forbstein.
Cinematography: Ernest Haller and Sol Polito.
Running time: 110 minutes.

Howard McQuitter II is a longtime movie critic. He has been reviewing movies for the alley since 2002.

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