Sunday, May 30, 2010

Fox docudramas go European!

I've recommended several of the Fox docudramas before. Most of them were filmed in part at the actual locations of the events in the movie. 13 Rue Madeleine, however, didn't get to film in Europe despite a good portion of the movie being set there. It would take a few more years for Fox to make a docudrama about World War II that could use European settings. That movie is Decision Before Dawn, which is airing tomorrow morning at 7:30 AM ET.

Gary Merrill stars as an American commander at that point of World War II when the Americans are just about to enter Germany proper. They need more information about German troop strength and positions, but how to get it? Well, there are a lot of German POWs that the Americans have captured, and somebody gets the bright idea of seeing if any of them would be willing to engage in counterespionage, on the hopes that there are some who were only dragooned into fighting by the Nazis. Naturally, it's a risky proposition, since anybody showing willingness to be a double agent may in fact only be expressing such interest as a way of getting out of the POW camp and getting back to Germany. Eventually, Merrill comes up with two men -- Oskar Werner and Hans Christian Blech -- and gives Richard Basehart the task of being their minders. The three men (the two Germans and Basehart) proceed to train for their mission.

The movie really picks up when the three go off to Germany to try to gather the vital information. The movie was made in the American sector of West Germany at a time when a lot of the rubble from all that Allied bombing had still not been cleaned up, creating a very authentic image of a country in chaos. Every able-bodied man would have been needed for the front, and for two German soldiers to be traipsing across the country against the flow of troops amidst the disruptions in rail services is difficult enough, even more so when the Nazis might realize your papers are forgeries. On top of that there's keeping Basehart from getting caught out, and the possibility that one or both of the German POWs might be phonies who will defect back to the Nazis. True, the spy stuff is fairly standard, but done quite well and ably assisted by the accurate locations.

Even though we know the Allies won the war, a good movie like Decision Before Dawn will keep you in suspense right up to the end. It's also been released to DVD, both on its own, and as part of an inexpensive box set.

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