(director: Jules Dassin; screenwriters: Paul Gangelin/John Meehan, Jr./Lothar Mendes; cinematographer: Harry Stradling; editor: Frank E. Hull; music: Lennie Hayton; cast: Conrad Veidt (Otto Becker/Baron Hugo von Detner), Anne Ayars (Kaaren De Relle), Frank Reicher (Fritz), Dorothy Tree (Miss Harper), Ivan F. Simpson (Prof. Jim Sterling), Martin Kosleck (Kurt Richten), Marc Lawrence (Joe Aiello), Sidney Blackmer (Arnold Milbar), Moroni Olsen (Brenner); Runtime: 84; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Irving Asher; MGM; 1942)
“A solid, lush looking wartime programmer spy film starring Conrad Veidt in a double role as identical twins.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A solid, lush looking wartime programmer spy film starring Conrad Veidt in a double role as identical twins: one as Otto Becker a retiring scholarly stamp collector and rare bookstore owner, the other as Baron Hugo von Detner a cold-hearted ruthless Nazi consul. Veidt fled Nazi Germany because his wife was Jewish, and came to Hollywood with a signed contract from MGM. During 1942 he also made Casablanca, but in 1943 while golfing he had a heart attack and died at the age of 50. He didn’t live to see the release of Casablanca.
This was the film debut for Jules Dassin (“Never on Sundays”), who later was blacklisted and built his fine film reputation working as a director in exile.
It’s set before America declared war on Germany. After not seeing each other for eight years since they were in Germany, Baron Hugo von Detner pays a surprise visit to his bookseller twin brother. Otto changed his last name to Becker, as he came into the country with forged papers and has since become an American citizen–despising everything about the Nazis and loving everything about America. When Hugo forces him to use the bookstore as a post office for spy messages, Otto gives his professor friend Jim Sterling a letter to the police warning about the spy operation. But Sterling is murdered and the Baron schemes to kill his brother. A tussle develops in the apartment when they are alone and Hugo is slain. Otto then shaves his beard and poses as Hugo, while the Nazi spies dump the unseen corpse (packed in a crate) in the ocean.
Warning: spoiler to follow in the paragraph.
The only one who recognizes the disguise is the longtime family servant Fritz (Frank Reicher), who works to help Otto learn about his brother’s contacts. Otto must fool the wily head of the spy operation Brenner and Hugo’s diplomat assistant Richten. One of the spies is Kaaren De Relle (Anne Ayars), who has become disheartened with the Nazis and can’t stand her boss Hugo but knows better than to quit. Otto turns the tables on the spy operation by anonymously giving the police leads to which supply boats they intend to bomb and the names of everyone in the spy ring, except leaving out Kaaren’s. The police either arrest or shoot the spies and the American government throws out the diplomats for their spying. Playing the hero until the end, Otto refuses to give his real identity and returns to Germany with Richten to face the unpleasant music of being revealed as a Nazi traitor rather than turn Kaaren over to the authorities.
REVIEWED ON 7/8/2005 GRADE: B