13 RUE MADELEINE finds James Cagney having picked up some pounds by 1947, but they don’t slow down his performance pep in this decent WW2 espionage meller, directed by Henry Hathaway.
The war over, non-classified info starting trickling out on the clandestine work of the ‘Office of Strategic Services’ in defeating the Nazis. In short order studios cranked out the slick thrillers Cloak And Dagger, Notorious and O.S.S. The zealous-jealous FBI had their own studio-served
spew slew).* Director Hathaway had shown adroit handling of undercover work in a semi-documentary fashion with The House On 92nd Street. Born in 1899, Cagney didn’t serve in uniform during the war, but did his bit girding the Home Front in Captains Of The Clouds and The Fighting 69th, touring with the USO to entertain troops, and infiltrating Japan as a judo-chopping journalist unmasking Blood On The Sun. His 1942 blockbuster Yankee Doodle Dandy had a morale effect equal to several divisions of soldiers. **
Here, the bantam tones down the volume some but the magnetism is intact as he trains saboteurs to go behind enemy lines, discover German double-agents and ultimately direct our bombers to hit the Gestapo headquarters in Le Havre, France. Half reasonable, half hokey, with plenty of ‘just-accept-this’ situations. Hathaway keeps it moving and the cinematography from Norbert Brodine skillfully blends a mix of noir shadow and docu-realism. It does boast a corker of a finale, giving Cagney one of his bravura exits.
Jimmy is backed up by Annabella,*** Richard Conte, Frank Latimore, Walter Abel, Melville Cooper and Sam Jaffe. Silent star Blanche Yurka has a small role. Unaccredited newcomers in bits would become familiar to us later as Karl Malden, E.G. Marshall and Red Buttons. It came in 34th for the year, grossing $7,400,000. 95 minutes.
*The Office of Strategic Services was dissolved by President Truman in September of 1945. A few of the famous folk who served on the hush-hush during WW2 included John Ford, Julia Child, Ralph Bunche, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Sterling Hayden and Moe Berg. Spy games bounced between departments until September of 1947, eight months after this was released, when tentacles morphed into the
democracy-destroying monster modern security institution we all cherish today, the C.I.A. They know I just wrote that and that you just read it….
Cagney’s character was based in part on the legendary William J. “Wild Bill” Donovan and some of the hairy exploits of the truly amazing Peter Ortiz, who acted as technical adviser. A former French Foreign Legionnaire, Ortiz was a US Marine officer attached to the O.S.S. He became its most decorated member, with episodes of sabotage, close combat and as a POW that would put Bond himself on edge. Speaking ten languages, winner of five Croix de Guerre, he eventually acted small roles in 29 films, including five directed by fellow OSS operative John Ford.
** Being an American institution, immortalizing George M. Cohan and fighting for Democracy on movie screens wasn’t enough to keep the creeps in the FBI from keeping tabs on Cagney due to his union sympathies (Warner Bros. not that social-minded) and staunch liberal support of FDR. Likewise, being an O.S.S. volunteer and behind-lines-hero in Yugoslavia did not keep Sterling Hayden from being arm-twisted by the Blacklist goons. Leave it to stay-at-home ‘patriots’ to man the barricades… after the shooting has stopped.
***When the fetching Annabella married Tyrone Power in 1939, they brought her mother back from Europe, leaving father and brother behind. The brother was killed by the Nazis.