Dick Powell’s U.S. agent goes undercover in the French Foreign Legion tangling with Vincent Price and Stephen McNally to the beat of a Noir themed hunt for a Nazi war criminal.
And it’s a whole lot of fun.
It’s Berlin in 1945. Stephen McNally’s S.S. officer orders the bodies of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun burned before he disappears thus evading the allied forces. This makes him the highest ranking officer wanted after the Nuremberg trials come to a close. He’s never been photographed so agent Dick Powell isn’t going to have an easy time hunting his man down.
On board a train heading to Saigon, Powell is introduced as a soldier of fortune. Then we have wealthy business man Vincent Price and a plain clothes McNally who is joining the Legion with other outcasts from various nationalities. Upon their arrival, Price pegs McNally for a high ranking officer and the twosome form an uneasy alliance.
Once our duo are enlisted, Powell is on the hunt checking into the background of any man with a German accent including McNally. Every face seems to carry a dark past and hidden secrets. This doesn’t stop him for joining the troop in a local cafe where Marlene Dietrich wannabe Marta Toren is the local torch singer and Powell is soon to find out, his underground contact. Conveniently, this allows the script to give him a love interest though it’s far from necessary.
McNally prefers to keep all loose ends firmly tied up but things are going to begin to unravel for him when one of his fellow legionnaires recognizes him for the high ranking officer he is. When Powell learns that the soldier harbors the secret of just who he’s hunting the action is going to intensify when the troop is attacked while on a scouting mission by Vietnam forces. Don’t be surprised if Richard Loo and Philip Ahn turn up in the attack.
It’s during the lead up to this attack that we’ll find out Price’s motives in the story as well. He’s making money off of the war and isn’t worried who he sells guns to. For Vincent’s fans, you’ll be sure to smile when he’s questioned about what he does. He tells of his past, growing up with a father who was a collector of Cambodian art and now that he’s older he too dabbles in the art world.
Hopefully I don’t need to tell you that Vincent Price was one of the worlds’ great authorities on the subject.
When the script brings us around to the final reel, Noir fans will rejoice. It’s a culmination of the three leads in a dark apartment where double crosses and gun play will boil over to a dark alley brawl where good triumphs over the evil of S.S. war machine.
Powell plays it all rather straight and dare I say dull? Price was my main reason for watching and it’s one of the few films I hadn’t yet seen with one of only two actors I commonly refer to as “friend.” A little more screen time would have been welcomed but then perhaps McNally wouldn’t have had as many scenes as he did. It’s McNally who comes off best. That’s not much of a surprise as Stephen rarely mailed in a villainous role. He’s first rate here and easy to cheer against. When you have that going for a film, it only escalates the adventure and satisfying outcome.
Character player James Millican gets the best line when he sees Powell making a play for Miss Toren, “That dame’s so cold she’ll freeze him solid.” John Doucette, another long time character face most will recall gets a brief bit of screen time when the newly enlisted men are getting their physicals.
The action sequences are well staged by director Robert Florey. As a classic horror fan of the Universal series, I must admit that anytime I hear the Florey name, I have a hard time recalling any film he directed. Instead I think of the fact that he was pulled or pushed off the Frankenstein project along with Bela Lugosi, paving the way for James Whale and Boris Karloff.