Anatole Litvak’s sensationalistic melodrama is considered to be the first anti-Nazi film from a major studio, Warner, calling attention with great degree of alarm to the existence of spies in the U.S.
Starring Edward G. Robinson as a G-man busting a Nazi spy ring, the film, produced with the assistance of former FBI agent Leon G. Turrou, was a loose adaptation of a factual spy trial, which involved officials in the Reich and their American operatives. The movie suggested quite bluntly that German consulates were fronts for waging secret warfare against the country.
Based on the true story of a German-American recruited into a pro-fascist organization, the film was co-penned by leftist writer John Wexley (who also wrote the James Cagney 1938 vehicle Angels With Dirty Faces). Wexley later claimed that HUAC chair Martin Dies lobbied Jack Warner to make the script critical of the Soviets as well.
Largely perceived as an agit-prop piece about the dangers of fascist ideology as opposed to the values of democracy, the film was instrumental in bringing about the “Hollywood war-mongering” charges. Litvak, who directed the film with passion and commitment, which reflected the zeitgeist, cast the villains with top-notch actors on the order of Francis Lederer, George Sanders, and Paul Lukas. Robinson. For style, he inserted into the film newsreel footage, ominous narration, and other “semi-docu” devices to increase the effectiveness of the message.
When U.S.-based German officials protested, the movie was banned by countries, which feared offending Germany. Released in the U.S. just months before WWII broke out–on April 28, 1939–however, it was a popular success, prompting other studios to produce quickly other anti-Hitler films.
Litvak, who was born in Russia in 1902 and began his career in the silent era, is better known for his later melodramas (“All This and Heaven Too,” with Bette Davis, “The Snake Pit,” featuring Olivia De Havilland, “Anastasia,” with Ingrid Bergman) and film noir (“Sorry, Wong Number,” co-starring Burt Lancaster and Barbara Stanwyck).
Edward G. Robinson
Directed by Anatole Litvak.
Screenplay by Milton Krims and John Wexley, with Leon G. Turrou acting as technical adviser.