Thursday 21 September 2017

On Blu-ray - Rod Bishop reviews a quality spy drama, NIGHT PEOPLE, (Nunnally Johnson, USA, 1954)

Here’s a little-known spy thriller jam-packed with double-agents, absinthe addiction, torture victims, strychnine, soldier diplomats, nightclubs, a femme fatale, cut-outs, fraudulent identities (“phony papers”), good Russians, bad Russians, former Nazis from Himmler’s gang working in East Berlin and a general involved in the plot to assassinate Hitler. Even Peter Van Eyck pops up - a decade later he would play John le Carre’s East German double-agent Hans Dieter-Mundt in the great film version of The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (Martin Ritt, 1963).

Shot and set in Berlin in 1954, a soldier is kidnapped from the American Sector and a US Army officer Lt-Colonel Van Dyke (Gregory Peck) sets out to negotiate a hostage exchange with the Russians. Much to the chagrin of his current squeeze (Rita Gam), Van Dyke uses his contact with a spy and former lover (Anita Bjork) as the go-between. His life is further complicated by having to instruct the kidnapped soldier’s bellicose, industrialist father (Broderick Crawford) in a crash course about Cold War politics.

Night People is directed, written and produced by veteran scriptwriter Nunnally Johnson (it’s his directorial debut). The writing is better than the direction and Peck gets some acerbic lines – “He wasn’t a Nazi” he is told, before snapping back: “I know. Nobody was. I don’t know how the rumor ever got started that there were Nazis in Germany”. He even gets to refer to the Russians as “progressive businessmen…what you Americans call the Mob”. Broderick Crawford does a good imitation of a wealthy Donald Trumpish bully who thinks money can buy anything and believes he is qualified in Cold War politics as “I have four ex-Colonels and one ex-Brigadier-General working for me. I’m no longer awed by military rank”.

The spy material is fascinating, clearly heavily researched and it references the same dark Cold War world of tradecraft, double agents and double-crosses that John le Carre would begin writing about seven years later.

In Cinemascope and Technicolor from Kino Lorbeer and according to DVD Beaver, released for the first time on disc in the correct ratio 2.55:1.

Broderick Crawford, Gregory Peck, Night People

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