Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Cross cross cross

Another recent movie viewing for me that's available from the Warner Archive is Triple Cross.

The movie starts off with a bang, quite literally, as an explosion goes off opening up a safe somehwere in fashionable London of the 1930s. Rifling through the safe and walking off with the valuable jewels is Eddie Chapman, played by Christopher Plummer. As you can tell by the link, Eddie Chapman was a real person, leading what was known as the "Jelly Gang" or "Gelignite Gang", after the explosive used to crack the safes.

Anyhow, the law was about to catch up with Eddie, so he fled Britain for Jersey, in the Channel Islands because apparently the Channel Island's semi-autonomous nature made extradition to Britain more difficult. Of course, Eddie kept committing crimes, and would eventually be caught and jailed on Jersey.

If you noticed the date at the beginning, you should know that the late 1930s means World War II was on the horizon. And if you remember your history, you'll recall that the Germans occupied the Channel Islands starting in June 1940. So Chapman eventually ended up in a prison in France. With all those criminal skills and a possible 14-year sentence awaiting him back in Britain, he presented himself as a model candidate to spy against Britain for the Nazis, with his handlers in the movie taking the form of a Baron (Yul Brynner), a Countess (Romy Schneider), and a Nazi colonel (Gert Fröbe). They eventually decided that Chapman was loyal enough that they could send him on a sabotage mission to Britain.

Of course, Chapman was only loyal to himself. Once in Britain, Chapman started meeting with the British, in the form of a "Distinguished Civilian" (I believe his name is never given), played by Trevor Howard. Now, the British think Chapman is dead because of course the Nazis made a point of staging a phony execution. Why the British in the movie didn't fingerprint him is beyond me. Chapman is willing to work for the British, but as the cost of them pardoning him for all crimes he committed in the past.

Once the British decide that Chapman probably is loyal to them, or at least as loyal as he's ever going to be, they prepare him for a mission back in occupied France.

Eddie Chapman's story sounds like an exciting one, full of twists and turns and the backstabbing that a title like Triple Cross implies. And yet, the movie makes Chapman's story seem decidedly pedestrian. It's not that the movie is bad by any means, but it seems slow and makes it feel as though there was really surprisingly little going on with Chapman's service during the war.

The acting is uniformly competent if not great, and the cinematography is nice. But the movie feels like it could have been so much more.

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