US / 66 minutes / bw / M&H, PRC Dir: Albert Herman Pr: George Merrick Scr: Arthur St. Clair, Sherman Lowe Cine: Marcel Le Picard Cast: Lola Lane, Noel Madison, Howard Banks, Paul Weigle (i.e., Paul Weigel), John Vosper, Anna Demetrio, William Vaughn (i.e., Wilhelm von Brincken), Juan de la Cruz, Kathryn Sheldon, Victor Kendell, Richard Kipling.
A wartime propaganda piece, its screenplay clumsily thrown together even by PRC standards, aiming to demonstrate that, although our Red allies might have the nasty habit of calling us lickspittle running-dog lackeys of imperialism, they’re good guys (and gals) really.
Prominent Nazi operative Greta Hiller has come to an untimely end, a fact not yet generally known. Comrade Vera Morova (Lane) of Soviet counterespionage, who bears a strong resemblance to the deceased, is sent by a commissar (uncredited)—whose Russian accent battles unsuccessfully with a New Joisey substrate—to take Hiller’s place and worm secrets out of the Nazi hierarchy in occupied France. To aid her in establishing her credentials among other secret Soviet operatives and the French underground, she’s given a rigged two-franc coin whose two halves can be screwed open to reveal a secret message within.
Nazi fervor as Cap Heinrick (John Vosper) and “Greta Hiller” (Lola Lane) watch der Fuehrer rant.
Her first contact in Paris, the elderly painter Devallier (Weigel), gives her a cigarette case and then promptly betrays her to the Nazis—or does he? She’s marched into the presence of Colonel Wolfgang Heinrick (Vosper), who recognizes the cigarette case as a gift from the Fuehrer, opens its secret compartment to reveal a miniature Military Cross, deduces this woman is really Greta Hiller, and sets about romancing her.
In another part of the country—St. Nazaire, to be precise, an Allied incursion has gone wrong, and the terrain’s being combed for fugitive Allied personnel. We meet US officer Steve Worth (Banks) and his Brit counterpart Gerald Naughton (Kendell). They’re being aided by elderly French farmer Pierre (de la Cruz), who, as soon as they’ve left him en route to Paris, is shot by the Nazis.
Despite Heinrick’s infatuation with the supposed Greta, Gestapo chief Captain Anton Kleis (Madison) and Captain Richter (Vaughn)—described as a secret policeman yet who promenades in full uniform, complete with a whole clankery of medals—suspect Greta’s credentials. So does her granite-faced maid Minna (Sheldon), who sees all sort of discrepancies in madame’s behavior. Things get more complicated for Greta when, with Heinrick in the outer room, Steve climbs in through her bedroom window trying to escape Kleis, it obviously being the business of senior Gestapo officers to chase fugitives up and down the alleys rather than delegate the task to subordinates. Greta and Steve manage to engineer things such that Kleis inadvertently shoots Richter dead, thereby silencing at least one of the accusatory voices.
Much of the rest of the action takes place at the snazzy Paris restaurant where Heinrick interminably wines and dines his Greta or, a tad more interestingly, in its grunge counterpart, the seedy dive Le Papillon, run by the voluminous Madame Finchon (Demetrio); in its back room, genteel radio operative Dr. Suchevsky (Kipling) transmits to Moscow the details of troop movements, etc., that are relayed to him by Greta and others.
If this movie were better done, it would assuredly have noirish interest: the paranoia, the hunting of fugitives through the streets, the threat of sudden and arbitrary death, the mysterious femme fatale who just happens, this time, to be on the side of the angels—there are plenty of promisingly noirish ingredients in this stew. Unfortunately, the whole enterprise is so ramshackle that none of them actually come into play: at every turn, the easiest and cheapest option is chosen, so that any potential for atmosphere—for the sense of the noirish nightmare—is banished. The villains, Madison’s Kleis arguably excepted, are buffoons; Lane’s femme fatale is about as entrancingly exotic as leftover meatloaf.
It’s a sign of the attitudes in 1942 that it was deemed sensible to bill the actor playing Richter, Wilhelm von Brincken, as William Vaughn.
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