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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
"You're working for the Nazis. I know that. But I can't believe you're doing it willingly."
DVD ReviewThis is another nifty bit of World War II espionage from legendary director Fritz Lang, made just after the war's end, where the looming, very real danger of the atomic bomb lands academic Gary Cooper knee-deep in the middle of the blasted Nazi menace. It's a message film, to be sure, and Lang does manage to wave the peace-loving banner of "the only good science is a free science in the service of humanity" theme around frantically, despite veiled studio pressure that eventually forced an entirely new, more pedantic ending onto the film.
Cooper is nuclear physicist Alvah Jesper at the blandly American "Midwestern University," who is summarily recruited into the ranks of the O.S.S. (referred to as the "cloak and dagger boys") in order to determine how far the Nazis have come in perfecting an atomic bomb of their own. The mild-mannered Alvah is whisked off to Switzerland, where he is bounced around like a ping-pong ball between spies, double agents and the faithful Italian underground, and ultimately ends up as part of a mission to get a prominent Italian nuclear physicist named Polda (Vladimir Sokoloff) out of occupied Europe.
This is gloriously campy noir-spy stuff from Lang, full of fedoras, shadows, accents and enough cigarette smoke to choke a small army. The required suspension of disbelief to accept how quickly Cooper's almost nerdly pacifistic Alvah becomes a hardened spy, one who can effortlessly impersonate a Germanic scientist without a flub or take part in a brutally heated hand-to-hand fight (set oddly to the music of a roving band of Italian street musicians) is practically negated once he encounters the lovely and sleepy-eyed Gina (Lilli Palmer), a hard-edged courier for the underground resistance.
Palmer does the unthinkable by managing to actually steer the limelight away from Cooper, and shine it directly onto herself, full force. We first meet Gina after she and a group of her Italian underground comrades have picked up Cooper's Alvah, and while in the back of a borrowed military truck she brazenly strips down to her slip, all the while cradling a machine gun and looking without a doubt as if she really knows how to use it. Her lack of modesty startles Alvah, as it is apparently supposed to also startle us, and as the relationship between the two slowly develops the many facets of Palmer's character consistently sparkles in every scene. When Gina speaks of having to kiss men without feeling in order to gather information for the underground, it is a moving scene sold by Palmer's heavy-lidded gaze and her tough-gal veneer, one that eventually crumbles as she breaks down in Alvah's arms. Her performance, in a role that could have been trite and frothy (to say nothing of unbelievable) by any of one hundred other actresses of the era, is instead especially touching, even as the modified ending forced upon Lang plays out, mildly toning down the director's staunch anti-war sentiments.
This isn't Lang's finest work (see Metropolis or Ministry of Fear), but it is an enjoyably twisty little spy flick anchored by an especially haunted performance by Lilli Palmer, set against the backdrop of war-torn Europe, where apparently everyone was either a spy, a resistance fighter or one of those damn Nazis.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: It's obvious the source print has seen better days, but the 1.33:1 full-frame transfer has been patched up surprisingly well, considering it has not been put through a major restoration. There is the expected flicker and specking you might expect on a film from 1946, as well as some noticeably distracting shaking during a handful of scenes. The transfer itself is bit black around the edges, with night scenes appearing especially dark. There is quite a bit of fluctuation from scene to scene in image detail, with some passages particularly sharp, while others suffer from various age-related ailments.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: The audio transfer is described as "2.0 Dolby stereo surround," but it comes across the same as a cleaned-up mono track. Dialogue is understandable 99% of the time, though the disc's lack of subtitles was a bit of problematic with some of the Americanized Nazi accents. The swells of Max Steiner's hypnotic theme sound crisp, with no trace of hiss or crackle.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 23 cues and remote access
Packaging: AGI Media Packaging
Extras Review: No extras of any kind other than the adequate set of 23 chapter stops.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsA exceptionally solid bit of Hollywood rah-rah about "us" versus "them," wrapped in a layer of Nazi-tinged espionage from one of filmdom's finest directors. The easy everyman appeal of Gary Cooper is wholly upstaged by the tough-edged bravura of Lilli Palmer in practically every scene, and even the tempered climax does little to diminish the subtle message of Cloak and Dagger.
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