Cloak and Dagger (1946)

Cloak and Dagger (1946) is a Nazi nuclear secrets behind enemy lines espionage thriller made partially in the film noir style by Fritz Lang, starring Gary Cooper and Lilli Palmer.

One of a handful of major Hollywood stars of the Golden Age who remained a virtual stranger to film noir, Gary Cooper plays a bachelor nuclear physicist named Alvah Jesper who is working in the United States on the Manhattan Project to build a nuclear bomb. 

Recruited into the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) his mission is to make contact with a Hungarian nuclear physicist, Katerin Lodor, who has been working on the German project to make a nuclear bomb and has escaped into neutral Switzerland. 

Flown into Switzerland, Alvah finds it full of German agents who, after he manages one brief conversation with Katerin, abduct her. 

By befriending and then blackmailing Ann Dawson, an attractive American now a German agent, he discovers where Katerin is being held, but an OSS raid on the building fails and she is shot dead.

In the conversation, Katerin had said that the Germans wanted her to work with an Italian nuclear physicist named Polda —  so the OSS land Alvah in Italy from a British submarine and he is hidden by another attractive woman —  this time a member of the Resistance, Gina. 

The Big Board in Cloak and Dagger (1946)

He manages to obtain a brief conversation with Polda — played by Vladimir Sokoloff —  who agrees to work with the Americans only if the OSS first frees his daughter Maria, who is being held by the Germans. In this scene we meet the suspicious Luigi, played by Marc Lawrence, one of film noir's most recognisbale character actors.

Lilli Palmer shocks Gary Cooper in Cloak and Dagger (1946)

Resistance fighter Gina, played by Lilli Palmer, is quite the sight to behold, and this being the world of male war, she spends a lot of her time as we meet her in action in the resistance lorry, half dressed and in her underwear.

This is much to Gary Cooper's shock and then delight, and as the pair begin to work together closely on the mission, a romantic bond forms, through a series of typical encounters.

Gary Cooper in Cloak and Dagger (1946)

The first of these is the there's-only-one-bed scenario — which while it results in Cooper on the couch is suggestive enough to show that soon the couple will be in love and cuddling hard.

Then Gina has a bad dream, relating to a post-traumatic stress brought on by the war, and displaying her vulnerability and need for a strong man, this brings them to the hand-holding stage.

Scurrying across the countryside and wielding machine guns brings the couple to ultimate consummation under a small bridge of all places, and finally at the conclusion of the movie, Gina stays on to fight the good fight against the Nazis, while Gary Cooper smuggles the German nuclear scientist Polda back to the US to build bigger, better and faster bombs. 

While not the most flowing and psychologically satisfying of Fritz Lang films, Cloak and Dagger (1946) is replete with threat and danger, underwear included. The settings delight, most specifically in their overt reminders of fascism, with huge portraits of Mussolini where necessary, and pro-Mussolini on all village walls — should we forget we are undercover in Italy.

As planned by Fritz Lang, Cloak and Dagger had a different ending in Alvah Jesper (Gary Cooper) leads a group of American paratroopers into Germany to discover the remains of an underground factory, the bodies of dead concentration camp workers, and evidence the factory was working on nuclear weapons.

In this unused sequence Gary Cooper's character remarks that the factory may have been relocated to Spain or Argentina and then makes an overtly political speech saying: 

"This is the Year One of the Atomic Age and God help us if we think we can keep this secret from the World!"

Producer Milton Sperling, who had often quarrelled with Lang on the set of Cloak and Dagger, thought that this final scene ridiculous, since the audience knew the Germans had no nuclear capacity. 

On top of this, the film's screenwriters Ring Lardner and Albert Maltz became two of the Hollywood Ten, a group accused of adding communist dogma to movie scripts such as this one. Writing a script saying that the US was not able to keep nuclear secrets from the USSR, such as in this film, was one of many accusations made against the Ten.

Even during the period of its strictest enforcement, from the late 1940s through to the late 1950s, the blacklist was rarely made explicit or in fact was not easily verifiable. This is because the actual list itself was the result of numerous individual decisions by the studios and was not the result of official legal action. 

Gary Cooper as a nuclear scientist in Cloak and Dagger (1946)

Nevertheless, it did exists in and it quickly and directly damaged or ended the careers and income of scores of individuals working in the film industry.

On the other hand, Cloak and Dagger (1946) was a film directly intended to promote, boost and celebrate the work of the OSS — the Office of Strategic Services.

The OSS operated between 1942 and 1945 and was dissolved a month after the end of the war. Intelligence tasks were  later resumed and carried over by its successors, the Department of State's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) and the independent Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Vladimir Sokoloff, Gary Cooper — and Mussolini in Cloak and Dagger (1946)

The OSS proved useful in providing a worldwide overview of German capacity. In direct operations it was successful in North Africa in 1942, where it identified pro-Allied potential supporters and located landing sites. 

OSS operations in neutral countries, especially Sweden, provided in-depth information on German advanced technology. The Madrid station set up agent networks in France that supported the Allied invasion of southern France in 1944. 

Street espionage in Cloak and Dagger (1946)

Most famous were the operations in Switzerland run by Allen Dulles that provided extensive information on German strength, air defences, submarine production, and the V-1 and V-2 weapons. It revealed some of the secret German efforts in chemical and biological warfare. Switzerland's station also supported resistance fighters in France, Austria and Italy, and helped with the surrender of German forces in Italy in 1945.

The names of all 13,000 OSS personnel and documents of their OSS service were released by the US National Archives on August 14, 2008. Among the 24,000 names were some Hollywood and film noir heroes, including Sterling Hayden and John Ford. The 750,000 pages in the 35,000 personnel files include applications of people who were not recruited or hired, as well as the service records of those who had served.

There were three major espionage and noir style film productions showing in a both entertaining and propagandist manner, the World War workings of the OSS. These were:

The Paramount film O.S.S. (1946), starring Alan Ladd and Geraldine Fitzgerald, showed agents training and on a dangerous mission. Commander John Shaheen acted as technical advisor.

The film 13 Rue Madeleine (1946) which starred James Cagney as an OSS agent who must find a mole in French partisan operations. Peter Ortiz acted as technical advisor.

And this film, Cloak and Dagger (1946) in which Gary Cooper plays a scientist recruited to OSS to exfiltrate a German scientist defecting to the allies with the help of a woman guerrilla and her partisans. E. Michael Burke acted as technical advisor.

Probably the most striking scene in Cloak and Dagger is a frenetic and kinetic and splenetic fight scene between Gary Cooper and Marc Lawrence, which seems to show much more violent and vulgar detail than the regular Golden-era punch up. There is in fact all sort of gouging and close up limb twisting and finger breaking, effected rather silently by Lang as the antagonists struggle to both kill, but not be discovered by passers-by.

Marc Lawrence and Gary Cooper with a surprisingly silent violent fight in Cloak and Dagger (1946)

It's a sudden and strange brutality, signalled by the extended face gouge that Marc Lawrence carries on Gary Cooper, and the close up pain, emphasised by the silence and the unorthodox and constantly dirty fighting techniques are riveting.

Gina too is a fascinating character, despite her initial underwear introduction. In one scene Gary Cooper asks her if she has some milk for a hungry cat and in doing so, demonstrates the failure of many Americans to fully understand the suffering experienced by those living in occupied Europe. She points out she hasn’t had any milk herself in days and says: ‘If people are hungry, it’s only natural that cats should be.’

Lilli Palmer and Gary Cooper in Cloak and Dagger (1946)

She wants also to be like her pre-war self, and even dresses up at one point to try to re-create better her former life. Both brave and capable with anything from a machine gun to a locked door, she is also vulnerable and breaks down in the ruins at one point, exhausted and embittered by the hatred she experiences from the War. Critically, at the end of the movie, she does not take the opportunity to flee from it all to America, but stays in Italy, determined to go on fighting fascism.

Reading reviews ancient and modern, Gary Cooper is sometimes criticised for playing a nuclear physicist when in fact he was roundly known as a cowboy star. But in fact Cooper did play intellectual characters in his non-Westerns, such as The Adventures of Marco Polo (1938), and he was the Frank Lloyd Wright inspired architect in King Vidor's The Fountainhead (1949).

Like the Henry Hathaway film The House on 92nd Street (1945), which also deals with atomic bomb secrets, and how they might affect World War II, there is an emphasis on Nazi brutality and ruthlessness.

Both films also seem keen to shock by including Nazi women who are at least as evil as the men, if not more so. It can't be said whether the Nazis employed women to this degree, although it seems to be a singularly film noir style trope, to deliver the most evil one can, in the most critically favourable package.

One female Nazi in the film casually guns down their prisoner, the female nuclear scientist Katerin Loder — really without any hesitation — when their hideout is raided. And its moments like this, which give Cloak and Dagger its edge. It goes hard on fascism, and has a grim ongoing tone.

This bleak and nasty and almost empty feeling does underline the the horrors of World War II, and in this it is likely realistic. There are horrifying killings in the picture, and yet there are moments when the horror is emotionally touching. The idea remained it seems, that there was an effort made to inform the audience about what is going on. 

This grim tone is not that unusual for films made during World War II and in fact many war films made during the war have this rather grave approach. It is only after the war, especially during the 1950's, that Hollywood started making films that liked to depict war as a chauvinistic adventure. 

However, even after the war and in the movie American Guerrilla in the Philippines (1950), Fritz Lang did find ways to impress upon audiences the sufferings of civilian populations under such occupations.

Fritz Lang may have been the father of the spy film — and if espionage is a genre with its own styles, tropes and familiar characters — Lang may have been its originator, having directed the 1928 film Spione (Spies). 

The film's writer Thea von Harbou, Fritz Lang’s wife at the time, took as inspiration for Spione (1928) from the All-Russian Co-Operative Society (ARCOS) whose London office was a front for a Soviet spy ring. When British officials raided the ARCOS HQ in 1927 Soviet agents were in the basement behind a sealed door with no door handle, burning files. 

Spione was made with economy as it was the follow up to the big-budget Metropolis, which had failed at the box office — but the location shooting and the spare sets and an exciting chase through city streets create images and scenery antecedents to film noir. Then there are the villainous lairs of later spy films and the paranoia of the 1940s and 1950s, again simply expressed in Spione

These villains also seem to have a huge social reach, and the hero is as in Cloak and Dagger and many other spy films a debonair and dapper man, with a sardonic flair. There are touches galore, such as the immobile nurse standing like a stone-faced statue by the wheelchair-bound evil mastermind, her only function seems to be to be to light his cigarettes. Added to this are other spy tropes —  safes and secret compartments, as well as action scenes and spy gadgets — and the formula starts to fall into place.

By the 1940s it seemed that evil plans for world domination were not just a fantasy, and as well as very likely generating an entire genre, Fritz Lang got so much right — even insinuating that the bankers were the real villains in control. 

Recurrent Fritz Lang themes of fate, fear, power and paranoia are extremely evident in Spione, and well into the 1940s, including in Cloak and Dagger, were made to serve many a dynamic conspiracy thriller.

Space and décor were more important to Fritz Lang than any other director of the 1920s, and he manages to tell his stories as much as through the architecture as the actors. In the later American films, this can only be hinted at here and there, but in Spione there are rooms that are so angular and odd, they could only make sense in a nightmare. What Lang learned in the 20s he carried directly into film noir, and film noir borrowed it all.

For example, narrow corridors give a sense of entrapment while open doorways leading over to larger spaces create unease. Criss-crossing diagonals sometimes divide the screen, drawing attention to certain devices or people, and there are often compositions that are not quite symmetrical.

Further, Fritz Lang's choice of camera position was angular. In his earliest films he is either to one side and detached from the actors, or he is right inside the action with actors staring directly into the lens. He does not for example often uses opposing over-the-shoulder shot / counter-shots that most directors used for immediate dialogue scenes.

Cloak and Dagger (1946) at Wikipedia 

Destructive villainy in Spione (1928)

Fritz Lang predicted this in Spione (1928)

Bankers as arch villains in Spione (1928)

Proto-noir and political intrigue in Spione (1928)

Spione (1928)

In the villain's technological lair — Spione (1928)

No comments:

Post a Comment