(director/writer: George Seaton; screenwriters: from the short story Beware of the Dog by Roald Dahl, Carl K. Hittleman, and Luis H. Vance; cinematographer: Philip H. Lathrop; editor: Adrienne Fazan; music: Dimitri Tiomkin; cast: James Garner (Maj. Jefferson F. Pike), Eva Marie Saint (Anna Hedler, Nurse/Pike’s Faux Wife), Rod Taylor (Maj. Walter Gerber), Werner Peters (Otto Schack, SS Agent/Major Schack), John Banner (Sgt. Ernst, Home Guard), Russell Thorson (Gen. Allison), Alan Napier (Col. Peter MacLean), Oscar Beregi Jr. (Lt. Col. Karl Ostermann), Ed Gilbert (Capt. Abbott), Sig Ruman (German Guard), Celia Lovsky (Elsa, minister’s housekeeper), Karl Held (Cpl. Kemter), Martin Kosleck (Groupenfurher Kraatz); Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: William Perlberg; MGM; 1964)
“Has an intriguing premise it makes the most of until the secret is let out of the bag and the adventure story becomes more ordinary.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
George Seaton is the writer-director of this spry WWII spy caper, that has an intriguing premise it makes the most of until the secret is let out of the bag and the adventure story becomes more ordinary. It’s based on the short story Beware of the Dog by Roald Dahl, Carl K. Hittleman, and Luis H. Vance. The title indicates the time given to a German psychiatrist by the Gestapo to learn from a captive American intelligence officer full details about the D-Day invasion, or else they take over the questioning in their usual brutal manner and the shrink is subject to punishment for failure. It was later remade for TV and called Breaking Point.
Major Jefferson F. Pike (James Garner) attends a briefing in regards to the D-Day invasion in 1944 and then leaves to make contact with other intelligence agents on an important assignment in Lisbon. In a restaurant he’s slipped a mickey in his coffee and removed to Germany. When he wakes up, he unwittingly finds himself caught in an elaborate scheme prepared by German intelligence. He’s in a fake American military hospital under the care of a Nazi doctor, Major Walter Gerber (Rod Taylor), who is posing as a sympathetic American doctor in order to pump him for info on the expected D-Day invasion. Pike is told he’s been an amnesia victim for the last six years and that the war is over, with the American winners occupying Germany. To make matters convincing the entire staff speaks in English without accents, he’s given a newspaper dated May of 1950 and told the nurse treating him, Anna (Eva Marie Saint), is his wife.
The heavy-handed Gestapo agent, Major Schack (Werner Peters), doesn’t trust Gerber, whom he belittles as a college boy. He also doesn’t trust Anna, who took this assignment to get out of a concentration camp where she had been sexually violated by the prison guards and subject to inhumane treatment to such a large degree that she’s no longer capable of love and is willing to do anything to get out of the camp. So Schack keeps an eye on the interrogation progress by posing as Pike’s longtime German friend.
Pike is fooled by the ruse and reveals the details about the invasion in Normandy, but soon after becomes suspicious and tricks an M.P. on guard duty into giving a Nazi salute. He then forces Anna to tell the truth and the two have little choice but to trust each other to fool the Nazis into believing the info he gave them was bogus because he knew all along that he was being questioned by Nazi agents. It then becomes an exciting cat-and-mouse game as Schack believes the new info he got from Pike via torture, while Gerber tries to convince the ruthless SS man that the original story was correct because his method for getting info worked and Schack’s didn’t. It’s resolved in a thrilling way, as Anna and Pike try to escape across the border to neutral Switzerland.
REVIEWED ON 1/12/2006 GRADE: B