Friday, November 30, 2012


I don't recall exactly how I came to own a DVD of 36 HOURS (1965). I figure I got it in a trade with one of my fellow collectors at some point over the years. This is a movie that I was totally unfamiliar with but I sat down and watched it yesterday and I'm glad I did. It's a good one.
This WWII spy thriller stars James Garner as a U.S. military intelligence agent. It's days before D-Day, June 6th, 1944 and the top military brass of the Allied forces want to make the Germans believe the invasion of Europe will take place at Calais instead of Normandy. Garner is dispatched to Lisbon to distribute false information to a German agent. While in Lisbon, the bad guys slip him a mickey and he is whisked away deep behind enemy lines to Stuttgart, Germany.
A U.S. military hospital has been built in Stuttgart that is exact to the last detail. It is populated by English speaking Germans playing the parts of doctors, nurses and patients. While unconscious, Garner's hair is dyed gray, drops are put into his eyes to effect his eyesight and when he wakes up, he finds a newspaper in his room dated May, 1950.
This is all part of an elaborate plan concocted by German doctor Rod Taylor to extract valuable information from Garner concerning the upcoming invasion. If Garner can be madeto think that he's an amnesia victim and that the war has been over for six years, he might freely talk about the invasion, believing that it happened in the past instead of a few days hence. Taylor is aided by Eva Marie Saint, an English speaking German nurse who has been held prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. Desperate to escape the prison, she agrees to go along with the scheme. Things go well for the Germans until things go wrong when Garner figures out what's really going on.
36 HOURS is a taut, WWII spy thriller that calls to mind several classic MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE episodes in which the victim of the con is made to believe that he (or she) is actually living in a different time and place. It's a fiendishly clever conceit and writer/director George Seaton (who also directed AIRPORT in 1970) handles the action admirably. The three leads are good. Garner is always a pleasure to watch, Saint is solid and Taylor (winner of the Robin Williams look-alike contest) plays a Nazi hating German doctor who cares more about advancing his medical theories for the treatment of shell shock and battle fatigue than in aiding the Third Reich. Several supporting players are better known for their roles on popular television shows of the 1960s  including Alan Napier (Alfred on BATMAN), James Doohan (Scotty on STAR TREK) and John Banner (Sgt. Schultz on HOGAN'S HEROES).
The title, 36 HOURS, refers to the amount of time Taylor has to spin out his plan before Garner will be turned over to a menacing SS officer (Werner Peters) who will torture the agent for information.
36 HOURS is a nifty little war film that puts the emphasis on a psychological gambit rather than combat and battle action. Recommended.

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