Saturday, November 25, 2017

Stubs - 36 Hours

36 Hours (1965) Starring James Garner, Eva Marie Saint, Rod Taylor, Werner Peters, John Banner, Russell Thorson, Alan Napier Directed by George Seaton. Screenplay by George Seaton.  Based on the short story "Beware of the Dog" by Roald Dahl in Harper's (Oct 1944). Produced by William Perlberg. Runtime: 115 minutes. USA War, Drama, World War II, Suspense

Roald Dahl is not a name you usually associate with war and suspense, but World War II affected everyone, Dahl included. His short story “Beware of the Dog”, originally published in Harper’s Magazine in 1944, tells the story of an RAF pilot, Peter Williamson, who gets shot down over Vichy France, but wakes up in a hospital bed in Brighton, or so he thinks. He becomes suspicious of his surroundings, finally figuring out that he is still in Vichy France and that his English caregivers are actually Germans in disguise.

Dahl is best known for his children’s books Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Witches and James and the Giant Peach, all of which were also made into successful movies, some more than once. But he was actually in the RAF during the war. After he was injured on duty, he was transferred to Washington D.C. in 1942, where he worked as an Air attachĂ© and began his writing career recounting his War experiences.

James Garner was a television star first. After leaving the US Army in 1952, he began acting. He played a non-speaking role in the Broadway stage version of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, letting him observe Henry Fonda on a daily basis. After that, he moved to television. According to his autobiography, Garner claims that he was almost the lead in the TV series Cheyenne, but when the casting director couldn’t reach him in time, the role went to Clint Walker.

After a couple of years, Garner landed his own starring role on TV in Maverick (1957-1960) but left after three seasons. He appeared in the film Darby’s Rangers (1958) after Charlton Heston turned down the lead. He was subsequently hired by Warner Bros. to appear in such films as Up Periscope (1959) and Cash McCall (1960). After leaving Warner Bros. he starred in such films as The Children’s Hour (1962) opposite Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine; Boy’s Night Out (1962) with Kim Novak and Tony Randall; and Move Over Darling (1963) a remake of My Favorite Wife (1940), playing the role created by Cary Grant, an actor to which Garner is often compared. Other roles in such films as The Great Escape (1963) and The Americanization of Emily (1964) followed.

By 1965, Garner had formed his own production company, Cherokee Productions, and one of the movies that company made was the adaptation of the Dahl short story, now called 36 Hours. With George Seaton writing the screenplay and directing, the film was shot on location in Portugal, Germany and Yosemite National Park, where most of the film was shot. Exterior shots were filmed at the Wawona Hotel near the entrance of Yosemite.

The Wawona Hotel in Yosemite doubles for the U.S. Army hospital in 36 Hours.

A few days before D-Day, with the plans finalized for the invasion at Normandy, Allied troops are concerned that the Germans might be onto their plan, even though Nazi troops are currently concentrated at Pas de Calais, where they anticipate the invasion will take place.

In order to check that out, his commanding officer, General Allison (Russell Thorson), and British Colonel Peter MacLean (Alan Napier) decide to send U.S. Army Major Jeff Pike (James Garner) to Lisbon on June 1st, 1944 to meet with an informant in the German consulate there. This is a contact that Pike has developed over the years and one only he knows how to read. Pike has been in on General Eisenhower's final briefing on the landings, but has been trained to withstand torture. Before he leaves, he suffers a papercut when he touches the edge of one of the maps hanging on the wall.

Pike is sent over on the midnight flight, which has been delayed an hour so that Pike can be on it. His departure is witnessed by an informant, who notifies another agent, an elderly British woman, who goes into Pike’s apartment and steals some personal items as well as hair from his brush.

When he lands in Portugal, Pike makes sure that his presence is known and that the German informant is notified. But at the rendezvous, which takes place at a café, Pike is drugged and while making his way to the meeting, becomes disoriented and eventually passes out on the street. However, the Germans abduct him and, putting him in a coffin, manage to fly him back to Germany.

The Nazis under the supervision of Dr. Walter Gerber (Rod Taylor) and with the help of nurse Anna
 Hedler (Eva Marie Saint) alter 
U.S. Army Major Jeff Pike's (James Garner) appearance.

While they keep Pike sedated, they “age” him, dying his hair with gray highlights and giving him drops to temporarily make his eyesight bad to the point where he needs to wear glasses to read. It is obvious that they know a lot about him.

Pike is helped back to bed by Dr. Gerber and nurse Hedler.

When Pike wakes up it is what looks like a U.S. Army hospital. He is told it is May 1950 and he is in post-war Occupied Germany. Psychiatrist Major Walter Gerber (Rod Taylor) explains that Pike has been having episodes of memory loss ever since he was tortured by the Nazis in Lisbon. He advises Pike that his blocked memories have always resurfaced, helped along by a therapy of remembering events prior to Lisbon and then pushing forward into the blank period.

Dr. Gerber explains to Pike the issues he's having with amnesia and how he can help him.

Various props including captured U.S. Army jeeps and uniforms, soldiers playing baseball, fake letters from Pike’s father, made up newspapers and fake radio broadcasts, are used to carefully convince Pike that the year is 1950 and that he is among fellow Americans. He is cared for by Anna Hedler (Eva Marie Saint), a nurse the Nazis have temporarily saved from a concentration camp.

Pike comes to believe that Anna is not only his nurse, but is also his wife.

Pike is completely taken in by the deception, even believing that Anna is his wife. She’s wearing an engagement ring that is, in fact, a family heirloom. Gerber, who pretends to be a close friend, even introduces Pike to SS agent Schack (Werner Peters), who he’s told runs a restaurant in a nearby village that Pike and Anna frequent. Pike apologies for not knowing him. As part of his "therapy", he recounts the critical details of the invasion plans, including the location and the date, June 5, to his eager listeners.

Pike starts to figure out the ruse when he realizes he has a paper cut he suffered a few days before.

While cleaning up from dinner, Pike gets salt in a nearly invisible paper cut he got the day he left for Lisbon. He realizes then that it is all a hoax. He tries to escape by riding a bicycle out the front gate. When the guard stops him, Pike confirms it by tricking him into reflexively snapping to attention in the German manner. He violently confronts Anna, who admits, with her neck in his grip, that the date is indeed June 2, 1944. She was recruited from a concentration camp because she was a nurse and spoke English. When pushed, she promises to help him.

Pike instructs Anna to run and tell Gerber that he was onto the plot, while he makes a feeble attempt to escape to sell it. Quickly recaptured, he states that he realized what was going soon after waking up due to his paper cut. Gerber does not believe him. After two days of interrogation, however, Pike and Anna convince SS agent Schack, who never believed the hoax would work. Pike pretends that the invasion will be at Pas de Calais and provides detailed plans, including code names. This information confirms what Schack and German high command believe, which is corroborated by counter-intelligence misinformation that has been fed to Nazi undercover agents by the British.

Pike is interrogated for two days by a German SS officer.

Gerber, however, sets the clock forward in Pike and Anna's room so when they wake, they think it is the morning of June 5. Gerber tells them that the Germans have been surprised at Normandy. Pike lets his guard down and confirms that the plan worked. Gerber comes clean about what he’s done and then tells Pike that there has been no invasion, most likely because of the rain that is taking place all over Europe. Gerber then tells Pike what he has to do and sends an emergency dispatch to Wehrmacht authorities, but since that doesn’t agree with the high command, Pike’s message is discarded. By midday June 5, Gerber has been discredited and Schack orders his arrest.

Gerber knows that when the Allies land at Normandy, Schack will kill them to cover his own blunder. Gerber, who feels like he knows Pike from his research, decides to help them escape. But he asks Pike to take his groundbreaking research on amnesiacs with him, hoping that he will live on through his work. When the Normandy landings begin on the morning of June 6, he laughs at Schack when he arrives, revealing that he has taken poison and pointing out that Schack will likely be liquidated.

Gerber helps Pike escape by giving him the key to his door.

Meanwhile, Pike and Anna make their escape, killing a guard on the way out. They find a place to hide nearby and after the location is searched, Anna tells Pike about how she doesn’t like being touched. She recounts her repeated rapes at the concentration camps and that she is cried out. Pike tells her that there is no love without tears.

Pike breaks the neck of one of the German guards so he and Anna can escape.

They take Gerber’s advice and head for a village on the border with Switzerland where they know a minister helps people to cross. The problem is that Schack knows that, too and pursues the escapees on his own, no time to wait for backup.

The minister's housekeeper, Elsa (Celia Lovsky), puts Pike and Anna in touch with Sgt. Ernst
(John Banner), who will sneak them over the border to Switzerland.

When Pike and Anna arrive, they are greeted by the minister’s housekeeper, Elsa (Celia Lovsky), who agrees to hide them. She introduces them to a jovially corrupt German border guard, Sgt. Ernst (John Banner). Ernst, who has been learning English since the war began, believes that the Nazis are eventually doomed. While he’s willing to help Pike and Anna, he requires payment. Ernst is only interested in gold, which is one thing the Nazis have taken away for the war effort. Anna, who is still wearing Pike’s engagement ring and another wedding band, has to give them to Ernst and Pike gives him his watch. Elsa is infatuated with the engagement ring and Ernst gives it to her.

Ernst demands gold jewelry to aid in their escape.

Schack shows up at the minister's after Ernst and the couple have left for the border, but he recognizes Anna's ring on Elsa’s finger and forces her to reveal their planned escape. Schack catches up at the border and has the drop on Pike and Anna, but before he can kill them Ernst shoots and kills him. He then, with Pike’s help, arranges Schack’s body to make it look as if he had been killed while trying to escape.

Pike and Anna head off to freedom in Switzerland.

Safely in Switzerland, Pike is to go to the U.S. Embassy and Anna to a refugee camp. Pike promises to look in on her before he returns to London. When they are placed in cars next to one another, Anna cries her first display of emotion in years.

Released in January 1965, in New York on January 28, the film went on to make $2.2 million in domestic box office and was enough of a success to cement Garner as a movie star. Clearly the star, Garner is a likable actor and his character is also likable. You find yourself rooting for him and Anna as well. Pike is such a good man that when he accidentally drops Gerber’s research as they’re trying to escape, that even though it might make them miss the rendezvous, he goes back to retrieve it. Truly a man of his word.

Eva Marie Saint began her career in television as an NBC page. She did get in front of the camera as early as 1946, appearing in Campus Hoopla on that network. She made her film debut in On The Waterfront (1954), which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Saint would appear in Raintree County (1957), Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest (1959), Exodus (1960) and All Fall Down (1962) before appearing in 36 Hours. An accomplished actress, Saint gives a believable performance as a concentration camp survivor who will do anything, even help the Nazis, to avoid that fate.

Rod Taylor had a very two-dimensional supporting role in this film. He is as likable as a Nazi has been depicted on film, but there is always the loyal soldier in the background. He might like who Pike is, but Pike is still the enemy. Even if no one will believe him, his Gerber character has to try until there is no hope. Gerber is as much of a realist as SS Agent Schack claims to be.

One of the added values of watching the film is to see future television stars who seem to be everywhere in this film. Not only had Garner been a TV star before getting into films, he will eventually go back to that medium and star in the long-running Private Investigator series, The Rockford Files (1974–1980). Alan Napier would go on to portray Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s butler in TV’s Batman (1966-1968), a role he would be known for to the Baby-Boomer generation. James Doohan who would go on to play Scott “Scotty” Montgomery on the original Star Trek series (1966-1969) as well as the films that would follow.

But of all of these actors, the one who went on to play a very similar character on TV was John Banner. Here he provides some comic relief as Sgt. Ernst, an out for himself German border guard. In some ways, this is a blueprint for his role as Sgt. Schultz on TV’s World War II inspired comedy, Hogan Heroes (1965-1971).

The film takes an interesting approach, letting the audience know what is happening to Pike when he doesn’t know. We see the Nazis’ scheming and planning and have to wait for him to catch on. It’s always the little things that come into play. If he hadn’t cut his finger on a map, then they may have well gotten away with their ruse. We wait for him to figure it out and how he can try to correct his mistake. It helps him that the Nazis don’t trust one another while trying to stay loyal to their mistaken high command. By this point in the war, the Nazi regime’s days were numbered, but they didn’t really know it quite yet, though some like Ernst were just waiting for the day to come. The film reminded me of the television series Mission Impossible (1966-1973), when the team led by Jim Phelps regularly pulled off the kind of ruse the Nazi’s are trying to do here.

One problem I have with the film, and it is only through analyzing it that I caught this, the hero doesn’t solve his own dilemma. When Pike and Anna are caught dead to rights by Schack, it is Ernst who saves them, rather than Pike or Anna figuring a way out of the life or death situation they find themselves in. Ernst kills Schack to save his own hide, figuring Schack would put an end to his smuggling operation and to Ernst himself. Pike and Anna are the beneficiaries of Ernst’s actions, but they don’t take action themselves.

That said, overall I liked the film and would recommend it. No film is perfect, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch them. 36 Hours may not have you on the edge of your seat, but it is well-acted and with a well thought out and unique storyline for the time it was made.

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