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O.S.S. (1946)

Sandwiched in between costarring with Veronica Lake in The Blue Dahlia and Gail Russell in Calcutta, Paramount favorite, Alan Ladd, appeared opposite Geraldine Fitzgerald in this WW2 spy drama that sees our hero overseas in France as a member of the O.S.S.

From the outset, Ladd is a member of the WW2 spy unit. Through the film’s first half hour he and his fellow team members are going through spy training just like 007 had to do it for Queen and country. Patric Knowles is the company commander who oversees the operations and will be saddled with sending agents to what in many cases will be certain death. For the latest foursome he is to send into France, he’ll need a woman as a member of the team and recruits Miss Fitzgerald to join Ladd, Don Beddoe and Richard Benedict.

With a layover in England during the Blitz, there’s an amusing scene of Ladd and Fitzgerald prior to their initial meeting. Each one reports to Knowles that they believe they are being followed by the other. It’s a good set up to the danger and romance that lies in wait for them following their parachuting into France. The target? A train tunnel that needs to be destroyed in order to cut off Nazi supplies and generally disrupt the progress of the German forces.

Sadly things won’t go well for Beddoe who finds himself running afoul of Nazi’s John Dehner and Jack Lambert just hours after making the jump. His death will leave Ladd in charge of the mission that must not fail. Benedict will serve as a radio man sending information back to England that Ladd will pass on to Fitzgerald about train schedules and what the boxcars are carrying. Along with help from the underground, Ladd, is working as a laborer loading cargo onto trains at a Paris depot. With the latest message sent to England the film directed by Irving Pichel will insert some authentic WW2 bombing footage into the 108 minute running time.

Into our story comes a German Officer played by John Hoyt. He of course takes a fancy to Miss Fitzgerald who is posing as a sculptor/teacher working in Paris. Hoyt is a sketch artist and could become very useful to Fitzgerald which means of course she’ll have to lead him on. Sex? It’s on his mind but she fends him off with the story of a lover she’s pining for. While she’s sculpting a bust of Hoyt, Ladd, sees an opportunity that may be their best means of destroying the intended target. Hoyt is to be taking a train that will be going through the targeted tunnel. With some quick convincing, Fitzgerald, will join him on the journey and in a key plot point will switch the bust of Hoyt with one made from plastic explosives. Gun in hand, Ladd, takes over the engine and slows the train to a halt in the tunnel and …. and …. well let’s just say he and his leading lady make a get away but Hoyt will make it out of the tunnel alive and for the balance of the film will be hunting the woman who has done him wrong.

The movie morphs into a chase film with Ladd and Fitzgerald attempting to stay one step ahead of the Gestapo. Notably a shifty member of the Reich played by Harold Vermilyea who can be bought for a price. He’s hedging his bets that the allied forces are beginning to take control of the war and provided the funds are coming in may step up and help the trio of agents get back to England. I said three. Let’s not forget our radio man, Benedict.

A false ending?

Kind of because right around the 90 minute mark when it looks as if there’s to be a major battle against Hoyt and a send off with Knowles a favor is asked of Ladd who finally loses his cool, “I’m no hero.” but of course will continue the fight with his leading lady by his side.

O.S.S. makes a great addition to the spy films that circulated movie houses during and after the war came to an end. Ladd is at the height of his on screen powers as an action hero and is perfectly cast as a member of the spy fraternity. Any film with Ladd during this era leaves one wondering why the studio didn’t cast Veronica Lake alongside but that isn’t necessarily fair to Fitzgerald who in this case does a splendid job of her own facing down Hoyt right to the bitter end.

Along with the prolific character actors, Hoyt, Dehner and Lambert, you’ll spot some other well known faces throughout this black and white adventure. James Westefield and Frank Ferguson turn up early on during Ladd’s training schedule and we’ll see Onslow Stevens and Bobby Driscoll as well. Driscoll went on to play Jim Hawkins in the 1950 Disney version of Treasure Island while I’ll always associate Onslow with his evil turn in The House of Dracula.

A fine WW2 adventure that has a Fritz Lang feel to it without the reputation of that director’s work. Pichel had graduated from being a character actor who again may be best known to fans of the Universal Monster series as Sandor in Dracula’s Daughter, to directing a number of features during the 1940’s. One of which was an earlier Ladd weeper, 1944’s And Now Tomorrow.

As for O.S.S. ? It was released to DVD as part of the Universal Vault series which allowed me to replace a VHS version of the movie I’ve had here for a number of years. If you’re wondering why a Paramount film has been released by Universal to home video it’s because way back in 1958, Paramount, not seeing much value in their old flicks sold them to Universal for television distribution and who have retained their rights ever since.

14 Comments »

  1. Ladd’s films were tricky to see for ages, and I’m still in the process of catching up with a fair few of them. This is one I’ve yet to see and I do enjoy these wartime spy yarns quite a bit. I don’t believe I’ve got a copy of this movie either, so that’s something to look into asap.

    • Bang on about Ladd’s films and still there are some that haven’t been made readily available to my knowledge. Wild Harvest comes to mind. This one’s quite enjoyable and maybe a bit less of the propaganda piece since the war was actually over. Therefore concentrates on an action espionage flick without the big speech scene. Worth catching up to if you can find it.

  2. There actually is a great radio version of this film with Ladd and Lake – I’ve only heard the radio story and have not yet watched the film version. Definitely check out the radio version as it’s got that great Ladd and Lake chemistry!

  3. I’ve always wondered about this one…I liked the mystery and simplicity of the title. Now I’ll have to track it down, ’cause it sounds like a fun story, with an outstanding cast to go along with it. (And Jack Lambert as a German bad guy!). And I just found it online, so it looks like I’ll have something to do this Saturday night!

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