Film: 36 Hours

Another glaring omission from the Spy 100 list, 36 Hours (1965) is a clever and unique World War II adventure. James Garner stars as Major Jefferson Pike, a military intelligence officer for the Allies. In order to confirm whether or not the Germans are aware of their invasion plans for Normandy, Pike is sent to Lisbon to make contact with a paid informant from the German embassy. But before the rendezvous, he’s drugged and passes out, only to wake up six years later in an American army hospital in occupied Germany. According to Dr. Walter Gerber (Rod Taylor) and Pike’s wife Anna (Eva Marie Saint), the war is over, the Allies have won, and Pike is an amnesiac undergoing treatment to restore his memory. But in reality, he’s fallen into German hands and is undergoing an elaborate interrogation that could destroy Operation Overlord and save the German war effort.

Based on a Roald Dahl story, 36 Hours is smartly scripted, engaging, and intelligent, with a nifty hall of mirrors plot. I’m almost positive it had a direct influence on the original Mission: Impossible series, in concept if not in technique. While its plot probably won’t surprise modern audiences — especially those familiar with WWII history, or with “Big Store” and “time warp” cons — it still holds up as a slick, exciting, and occasionally moving film with a classic feel. I was particularly impressed by its roster of sympathetic characters, especially the Germans, whose moral dilemmas as subjects of the Nazi war machine are given uncommon consideration, in various convincing ways. Plus, there’s a great score from Dmitri Tiomkin. Really enjoyed this one.

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