In the fifth edition of this long running series of articles, I shall be taking a look into three films from the Fox Cinema Archives, Suez (1938), They Came to Blow Up America (1943) and Diplomatic Courier (1952). As part of their new found MOD program, the films were presented in solid condition on DVD and have never been released on home video before. While each of these three films were very different, in terms of style, genre and presentation, each and everyone of them completely left me in utter astonishment at how three amazing films from Fox had been left sitting in their vaults until now.
Suez stars Tyrone Power as Ferdinand de Lesseps, a French aristocrat that is engaged to the Countess Eugenie de Montijo (Loretta Young). After seeing how beautiful the Countess is, Napoleon III (Leon Ames) decides to interfere with the couple and send off Ferdinand to the Isthmus of Suez as a diplomat of France. While posted there, Ferdinand comes up with the idea to build a canal in order to ease trading of goods and other materials and to connect France and other European countries to the East. Along the way, he meets an attractive French woman named Toni Pellerin (Annabelle) that would help his cause, as well Prince Said (J. Edward Bromberg) a native Egyptian that helps him interact with the locals.
While the film does a really poor job at conveying the true story of how the Suez canal was built, the sheer fact that the film is a Darryl F. Zanuck production shows that Suez has some fantastic production value behind it, as well as an impressive cast with Power’s, Young and Annabelle. From all of the sets to the costume design, everything in Suez is a sheer sight to behold of 1930′s Hollywood filmmaking at its best. The chemistry between the three actors is extremely well balanced and makes for enough good drama to keep one interested in the relationships between them. One of the final set pieces, which include a giant sandstorm, are some of the best sets I’ve ever seen and quite a sight to see for a film that’s over 70 years old. For anyone that’s a fan of old sweeping epics of Hollywood or a solid romance film, set in an exotic location, Suez is definitely up your alley.
They Came to Blow Up America was very much different than the previous effort. The films stars George Sanders as an FBI agent that goes undercover as a man named Ernst Reiter, in order to gain entry to a sabotage school in Berlin. While he’s stationed there, he meets a woman named Helga (Poldy Dur) that he falls in love with and decides to help here once she gets in trouble with the Gestapo. Right before he goes on his mission of sabotage in the US, the wife of the man he’s impersonating, Frau Reiter (Anna Sten) tries to expose him to the Gestapo for being a double agent. The film is based off of the failed Operation Pastorius and was directed by Edward Ludwig.
Blending history, with a bit of comedy and action, They Came to Blow Up America is a hidden gem of a film that was an absolute surprise to see. I initially picked to review the film based on its goofy name alone and felt really great to see that it was a well made and competent thriller, bent on showing America’s fear of Nazi’s invading our country. George Sanders does such a great job as his role of Carl Steelman/Ernst Reiter and shows some really great acting range by going back and forth with comedy and dramatic bits. While other films would have the tendency to lose its focus and feel awkward tonally, They Came…never feels this way when doing any of these things and really shows how well done the script is, as well as the cast in all of their roles. One of the most intriguing aspects comes in the form of Steelman’s father, Julius Steelman (Ludwig Stössel). Julius’ views of the Gestapo and his son’s involvement isn’t the typical German character displayed in films of this era and its rewarding to see the views of this immigrant that looks down on the current turn of events in his home country, something that many German immigrants felts after coming here. Overall, They Came to Blow Up America is a damn great WWII film and its wonderful to see Fox dusting it off to give it back for the world to see.
The final film in this segment is Diplomatic Courier, a Cold War/Spy Thriller made by Henry Hathaway and quite honestly, one of the best films I’ve seen as an MOD title and also appalled at how this has never been released until now. Mike Kells (Tyrone Power) is a diplomatic courier that gets mixed up in the murder of his best friend, Sam Carew (James Millican), by Soviet spies, after failing to receive an important package from him. While stuck in Trieste, Mike gets involved with two different women, a wealthy widower named Joan Ross (Patricia Neal) and a double agent named Janine Betki (Hildegard Knef), that has a connection with Sam Carew. Whilst trying to fend off both of these women, Mike must not only find out who killed his best friend, but also get back the important document that contained a timetable of the Communist plan to invade various countries and attacks all around the world.
Diplomatic Courier is just absolutely brilliant on every level and deserves to be seen by a wider audience. Its got an amazing cast, especially Patricia Neal and Hildegard Knef that just steal every single scene that they’re in with Tyrone Power. There’s also great supporting roles by Lee Marvin, Karl Malden and a slight cameo bit with Charles Bronson, that show him as a Russian spy. Another fantastic reason to seek out this film, is the cinematography done by Lucian Ballard. Sam Peckenpah’s longtime collaborator, Ballard’s work in this film is really solid and conveys a great sense of mystery and intrigue throughout the film. I encourage anyone that loves old spy thrillers or great Cold War films, to seek Diplomatic Courier out, because it is simply worth your time.