THE COUNTERFEIT TRAITOR —- good, fact-based WW2 espionage saga from 1962, given a bonus to authenticity by location shooting in Berlin, Hamburg, Copenhagen and Stockholm.
William Holden plays a US-born Swedish oil exporter who apolitically trades with both sides until the British nab him for intelligence work, blacklisting his business unless he spies on the Germans for them. As his involvement grows, so does his personal commitment to the struggle, showcased through various adventures and in a romantic interlude with a lady spy, played by Lilli Palmer. Holden’s dismayed character asks his calculating superior, Hugh Griffith: “How does a person get to be so cold-blooded?” The matter-of-fact reply: “Watching German planes bomb London helps enormously.”
At 140 minutes, the lengthy saga takes about twenty minutes before you’re fully hooked into the solid production, steered by George Seaton, doing double duty as director & screenwriter.
Holden makes a fine reluctant hero (he had that nailed better than almost any of his contemporaries): it’s his last really good role before a slump set in until 1969 and The Wild Bunch. Palmer is excellent as his contact/mistress and she shines in a few moments that grip the heart.
A large European supporting cast offer various morsels of good or bad behavior: best are the always impressive Wolfgang Preiss as a Luftwaffe colonel and young Helo Gutschwager as a rodent-minded member of the Hitler Youth, a real weasel.
Sensible drama, shorn of hysteria, scored with typical distinction by Alfred Newman. With Ernst Schroder, Eva Dahlbeck, Ulf Palme, Carl Raddatz, Werner Peters and in a small role, Klaus Kinski. It came in 27th for ’62, grossing $7,700,000. “You can read about a hundred atrocities, hear about a thousand, but you only have to see one!”