The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - CLOAK AND DAGGER (1946) | The Movie Waffler

Blu-Ray Review - CLOAK AND DAGGER (1946)

cloak and dagger review
An American physicist reluctantly becomes an undercover agent deep behind enemy lines in WWII Italy.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Fritz Lang

Starring: Gary Cooper, Lilli Palmer, Robert Alda, Vladimir Sokoloff

cloak and dagger bluray

So loaded with the clichés and conventions of the wartime spy thriller is Fritz Lang's 1946 film Cloak and Dagger that the Zucker brothers are said to have used it as the template for Top Secret, their 1984 spoof of such movies. Yet while it conforms to narrative type, Lang's film offers enough idiosyncrasies to make it stand out from the crowd.

cloak and dagger review

It's WWII, and cocooned in the comfort of American academia is nuclear physicist Professor Alvah Jesper (Gary Cooper). That is until the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) comes calling. Jesper is roped into travelling to Switzerland to meet with Katerin Lodor (Helen Thimig), an eminent German scientist who has fled the Nazis and who may possess knowledge of their plans to develop atomic weaponry.

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Jesper is no spy however, and he's soon identified in Switzerland by a female Nazi agent (Marjorie Hoshelle) posing as an American expat. When Lodor is killed by her Nazi captors before Jesper can come to her aid, he decides to travel to Italy to rescue another scientist, Professor Polda (Vladimir Sokoloff), who is being forced to work on the Nazi's atomic programme. There he links up with the Italian resistance and is paired with tough young fighter Gina (Lilli Palmer, the German actress unconvincing as an Italian).

cloak and dagger review

Much of Cloak and Dagger is devoted to the burgeoning, if unlikely romance between Jesper and Gina. Like all good screen couplings, theirs begins in abrasive fashion, with Jesper having to prove his worth to Gina, who views him as a mollycoddled Yank with no clue as to the realities of life in occupied Europe. The film comes up with the device of a hungry cat as a means of bringing the two together. Hearing its cries, the American wishes to feed the animal. His Italian companion scoffs at the notion - "When there is no food for people, how can there be food for cats?" she sneers. But feed the moggy Jesper does, and this act of compassion doesn't go unnoticed by Gina, who for a brief moment recalls a less cruel world, one that might even return some day.

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Lang directed three similar espionage themed thrillers during the war - Man Hunt (1941), Hangmen Also Die! (1943) and Ministry of Fear (1944) - and all three are heavily propagandistic in their messaging. With the war over, Lang and his writers were given a little more freedom with Cloak and Dagger. As such, it contains a strong anti-nuclear sentiment, and in a surprisingly forthright moment, Cooper's Jesper rants about the irony of how there only seems to be money available to science during wartime, words which still ring true today. Unfortunately for writers Ring Lardner Jr. and Albert Maltz, such sermonising didn't go unnoticed, and the pair were blacklisted soon after.

cloak and dagger review

Cloak and Dagger is a middling entry in Lang's barely surpassed filmography, but it does boast one standout sequence. In a tenement hallway, Jesper finds himself confronted by an Italian fascist. A fight breaks out between the two men, and Jesper is forced to kill the man without attracting the attentions of the crowded street outside. Shot over six days, it's a remarkable set-piece, decades ahead of its time, and it no doubt influenced Hitchcock's similar yet more lauded sequence in Torn Curtain. Soundtracked by the croonings of a jolly street singer, it anticipates how filmmakers like Kubrick, Scorsese and Tarantino would later stage violence to upbeat music. Lang tops it off with a visual gag that has been much copied in the decades since. If for no other reason, Cloak and Dagger requires viewing for this exceptional scene.

New audio commentary by film critic and writer Alexandra Heller-Nicholas; new video essay by David Cairns; an hour long radio adaptation from 1946 starring Lilli Palmer and Ronald Reagan and a 660 minute radio series; collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by Samm Deighan.

Cloak and Dagger is on dual format blu-ray/DVD January 27th from Eureka Entertainment.