BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM reports from the Wellington Film Society. This week: spy games, part deux.

The House on 92nd Street proved so successful that Fox commissioned the exact same crew to further glorify another American war-time organisation, the Office of Strategic Services (essentially a forerunner of the 1947 founded CIA). 13 Rue Madeleine features a double-crossing German spy, war-time intrigue surrounding the D-Day invasion, and of course, the inimitable James Cagney.

This is a much darker film than The House on 92nd Street, less overtly propagandist. Bob Sharkey (Cagney) finds out that one of his intelligence students, Bill O’Connell is a Nazi spy, so he tries to feed him wrong information in order to throw the Nazis off track. It all comes to a head when O’Connell outwits Sharkey, and might potentially find out the Allied invasion location – thus compromising the entire D-Day operation. It’s rather sadistic ending, and a rather bleak narrative serves to outline the heroism of ordinary American folk, and of course, uphold the American missions. It also continues to fit in well with the soon-to-be vehement Anti-Communism pictures, where the simple sacrifice of Americans (and French here too a bit) is able to defeat dastardly dark-looking Europeans.

13 Rue Madeleine is also quite thrilling, with constant double-crossings and intrigue crammed into the proceedings. It also moves at a pretty rapid pace, though this does affect characterisation somewhat. Filmed in real locations (which seemed to put the journeyman director Hathaway a bit out of his depth), there’s a pseudo-documentary/realist tone to the proceedings as a result. The final third in particular benefits considerably from this. Of course, it’s great seeing a rather camp Cagney perform, saying his cheesy lines, and fighting some laughably awful fights. And surely he’d be able to prove he’s an American with that accent to the French Resistance (obviously in the 40s, Germans, French and Dutch all speak fluent English rather than their own languages). There were also some cameos from Karl Malden, EG Marshall and Red Buttons to liven up the proceedings further. Ultimately a rather silly but enjoyable spy flick, this was a lot more satisfying than The House on 92nd Street.