Paramount Studios presents
The Counterfeit Traitor (1962)
Eric Erickson: Ever since I've met you, I wondered what they have on you. The Allies, I mean. They've got me handcuffed. If I don't work for them, I lose my business.
Marianne Möllendorf: Oh, I see. Yes, I have something to lose too. If I don't help them I lose my self-respect. But haven't you ever opposed anything for the simple reason that it's wrong? Morally wrong?
Eric Erickson: Not when my life depended on it.- William Holden, Lilli Palmer
Stars: William Holden, Lilli Palmer
Other Stars: Hugh Griffith
Director: George Seaton
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, adult themes)
Run Time: 02h:20m:44s
Release Date: 2004-07-13
Genre: suspense thriller
DVD ReviewThe intelligence community tends to play by their own rules, usually out of necessity. Granted, the environment in which they work does not lend itself to hard and fast rules—it's a dynamic, ever-changing climate. They are expected to complete tasks without considering the repercussions, but certain officials in the field must resort to measures that may not be entirely moral. Sadly, that's the nature of war, and neither side of a conflict is immune to such situations. Does that make it right? This is where utilitarianism comes into the picture; how much wrong can be justified to achieve a good end result?
This is a question that comes to haunt Eric Erickson (William Holden). American born, he has made a comfortable life for himself as a prominent oil magnate in Sweden during WWII. He has resided in Stockholm for years, far before Hitler's rise. Thanks to Sweden's neutrality, he has seen good business from both sides of the war, and has enjoyed a sterile distance provided by such a political position. What he is doing is not illegal, and he seems to have a lack of American loyalty that may stem from years of absence from his country of birth.
When his name appears on a list of Nazi collaborators, his position is suddenly made precarious. Being blacklisted for no good reason may be unsettling enough, but he is met by a British intelligence agent (Hugh Griffith) with a proposition: Help the allies spy, and his name will be taken off. He agrees, and is recorded without his knowledgeÑinsurance in case he changes his mind. An anonymous delivery of the wax cylinder to the Swedish authorities would surely land him in jail. Between a rock and a hard place, Eric is forced to spy. His reasons are initially selfish, but events will change his motivations.
Up until now, he has acted as an opportunist, looking out for his own interests. Change comes with a series of frequent meetings with another agent: The beautiful Marianne (Lilli Palmer), who fights for very different reasons. She is a devout Catholic, and to her, Hitler is the Antichrist. She feels it is her moral duty to risk her life to end his tyranny. Eric does not understand this at first, but after witnessing the brutality of the Nazis firsthand, his information-gathering missions become personal. And so it goesÑEric travels back and forth, gathering intelligence and dodging Gestapo suspicion, until tragedy strikes, and he embarks on a daring, final mission to help those who helped him, at his own risk.
This is a stunning, plot-driven under-the-radar film. Beautifully shot in cities such as Stockholm, Berlin, and Copenhagen (they picked some fine locales), the story is set in the authentic locations. George Seaton's script, adapted from the book by Alexander Klein, is intelligent and manages to capture the many shades of European relations with Nazi GermanyÑfrom the neutrality of Sweden, to the passive resistance of occupied Denmark, seen through a powerful civilian rebellion when Eric most desperately needs it. Things are by no means black and white here. Seaton makes it clear who the true enemy is, but he does not forget the moral violations of those on the right side, including Eric's intelligence "betters," who enjoy a steady diet of fine cheese and lobster while others risk their lives.
Tightly directed with scenes of gripping suspense and power, the real stars are the two leads: William Holden and Lilli Palmer. Holden shows a fine, believable progression from disgruntled blackmail victim to outright resistance fighter, traced through an effective voice-over. Palmer's Marianne is dripping in intelligence and mystery, though her intensions are on her sleeve. Their connection is undeniable and eventually develops into a powerful romance. They feel no guilt, for their jobs have forced their respective spouses to willingly distance themselves. The world they occupy is unsettling and real, peppered with Gestapo and Allied agents alike. This feels like a great Hitchcock film at times, but stands apart as a powerful, message driven thriller that you will not soon forget.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer is quite clean, but tends to show its age. Colors are somewhat muted, and detail can vary from shot to shot. Some exhibit fine detail, while others can look dingy or washed out. Fine grain and some flecks are seen throughout. This is still a very fine transfer that shows good contrast and color, capturing the European locations quite well.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: Surprisingly, the audio is presented in a remixed Dolby 5.1 track, along with the original mono. The new mix is impressive and not overly showy, utilizing the surrounds for ambient effects, support of Alfred Newman’s distinctive score, and even the occasional directional effect. Dialogue is anchored to the center channel, and the entire mix sounds very clear. The mono track is clearly restored, showing good clarity and no hiss. Impressive work was put into this budget title.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Extras Review: There are no extras to speak of, not even a theatrical trailer. The film is also sparsely chaptered.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsGeorge Seaton's under-the-radar WWII thriller may look like a standard spy game, but carries powerful drama and important messages within its intelligent script. Well-directed and performed, this is a memorable picture that deserves more attention. Paramount's value priced disc is stellar. Despite a lack of extras, it's hard to complain. Highly recommended.
Matt Peterson 2004-07-13