In this psychological war-drama an Army Major is captured by the Germans during World War II. They attempt to brainwash him into believing the war is over and that he is safe in an Allied hospital, so that he will divulge Allied invasion plans.
James Garner ... Major Jefferson F. Pike
Eva Marie Saint ... Anna Hedler
Rod Taylor ... Major Walter Gerber
Werner Peters ... Otto Schack
John Banner ... Ernst
Russell Thorson ... General Allison
Alan Napier ... Colonel Peter MacLean
Oscar Beregi Jr. ... Lt. Colonel Karl Ostermann (as Oscar Beregi)
Ed Gilbert ... Captain Abbott
Sig Ruman ... German Guard
Celia Lovsky ... Elsa
Karl Held ... Corporal Kenter
Really enjoyed this film, an engaging mix of psychological banter with pre-D-Day espionage tension.
The best scenes for me were the dialogues between James Garner and Rod Taylor, they'd make a great film on their own. Garner has that amazing combination of intellect and machismo - he can debate the moral aspect of duty and then knock out a guard just as convincingly
Eva Marie Saint's performance is very strong too as the concentration-camp victim unable to express emotion after the trauma that she has experienced. The power of Roald Dahl's writing comes through here, as she acts as a constant reminder to us of the grim realities of the war in the context of the other charismatic characters.
36 Hours is a beautifully made thriller about an American major captured by the Germans in World War II not long before D-Day, and who is drugged and made to age artificially, so that when he wakes up he thinks five years have passed, that the war is over, and that the Americans won. A fake military hospital was made to convince him that this is so, complete with fake newspapers, reporting on the activities of President Wallace, with references to the retired FDR vacationing happily in Warm Springs. The idea behind it all is to get the major to spill the beans about where the Allied troops were going to land in France (indeed, the major does know this, and the Germans know he knows). In this respect the movie is based pretty much on fact. The Germans knew that there was going to be an Allied invasion of the Continent, most likely in France,--but where? Most of the German high command expected the Allies to land in Calais, but they weren't sure. Everything hinged on outfoxing the Allies, so that the Germans would be prepared for what they knew was going to be a massive invasion. But back to the movie: a friendly-seeming doctor, excellently played by Rod Taylor, explains to his "patient", quite convincingly, how he came to "lose" five years of his life. The race is on to find out the truth, only at first the major doesn't know it. He believes what the doctor tells him; but the doctor has his problems, too, which is how to tactfully get the information he needs from his "patient" (actually his captive) without the major knowing it.
James Garner is fine as the major; so good in fact as to make me wonder why his movie career wasn't more successful. Eva Marie Saint is her usual dignified self as the "love interest", though I found her character, once the truth is revealed about her background, hard to believe. Taylor's doctor is much more interesting, but alas gets less screen time. His character is ambiguous; a German-American who has returned to his homeland, where he has managed to get funds to do research, and who is slowly but surely becoming disenchanted with his Nazi superiors. The movie works like a charm for its first roughly two thirds and then falls off somewhat near the end, for reasons I won't give away. Overall, though, this is a very satisfying and somewhat neglected film. Though it doesn't appear to be made on a big budget it's very good in recreating the wartime mood, and in this respect wonderfully retro. It probably seemed a bit old-fashioned when it came out, when James Bond was all the rage; but time has been kind to it, and it plays better today than many of the more hip, sexy movies of the Austin Powers sixties.
George Seaton had already written and directed the very impressive The Counterfeit Traitor when he turned his attention to this absorbing and cleverly-plotted thriller. Once again the film is set during WWII and once again Seaton weaves an exciting story against the backcloth of that intriguing and terrifying period of history.
Major Jefferson Pike (James Garner) is an American intelligence officer who is kidnapped and drugged en route to Lisbon during the days approaching the D-Day Landings. Pike's original mission before his capture was to pass on misleading information to the Germans, intended to trick them into expecting the Allies to storm ashore at Calais rather than the actual intended target area of the Normandy beaches. When Pike awakens, he is unknowingly in a secret compound in Bavaria, and the D-Day attack is still 36 hours away from actually taking place. He is told by disguised Nazi spy, Major Walter Gerber (Rod Taylor), that the war is over and that he has been suffering from amnesiac lapses for the past six years. Gerber's plan is to convince Pike that the war ended years previously with Allied victory and that it is safe to reveal details about the D-Day Landings.... details which would, in fact, be very useful to the German forces in the hours approaching the top-secret Allied attack.
It is a very interesting plot, and is well-handled. Rod Taylor's performance as the slippery Nazi trickster is exceptionally good, while Garner handles his slightly dull role (as the hero with sensitive information which he is unsure about revealing) with efficiency. The crisp black and white photography - unusual for a film made in the Technicolour-obsessed '60s - adds to the film's verisimilitude and sense of period, giving it a documentary-like feel. While the proceedings are stretched out to a rather lengthy 115 minutes, the film doesn't become significantly tedious and manages to keep the viewer excited (even though we know, because of the real-life success of the D-Day invasion, that the audacious Nazi plot is doomed to fail). 36 Hours is a solid, suspenseful yarn which should satisfy anyone who enjoys stories about wartime intrigue and audacious masquerades.
It wasn't a blockbuster, but is haunting. I still remember the first time I saw it, and remember it every time I ... well, I don't want to reveal any plot points. But it is probably one of the films that triggered my love of mysteries.