Thursday, June 27, 2013

RESISTING ENEMY INTERROGATION (1944)

Hey folks, it's time to start to planning those summer vacations! And just in case you find yourself captured by Nazis, forget Fodor's and watch Resisting Enemy Interrogation instead. Don't even bother with those translation books, either. All you'll need to remember is one simple word: Shaddap!

One of the countless military training films made at the Hal Roach studio during World War II -- I'm pretty sure I spotted a set from his Nazty Nuisance comedy -- Resisting Enemy Interrogation is different from many others of its kind. For one thing, it could pass for a "real" 65-minute B-movie feature, despite never being shown to civilian audiences on its original release. It was good enough, in fact, to have earned an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary -- a strange category for a fictional movie. (Feel free to make your own Michael Moore joke.)


"Remember, men -- name, rank and
SAG membership number."

The set-up is simple enough. The crew of a downed American military aircraft is brought to the Dulag Luft POW camp and debriefed by the crafty Major von Behn. Each of the Americans conforms to a type: the stoic Lieutenant, the too-clever-by-half Major and the frightened and wounded crew members. 


"Have some water, pal. And pay no attention to
the swastikas."
No one is to be trusted at Dulag Luft. Not the German Captain who claims to have grown up in America (and who looks like a California surfer dude), the sweet nurse who loves Gone with the Wind, the alleged POW with the Brooklyn accent, or the Red Cross representative. Even the trees are bugged, and we're not talking cicadas. And although the Lieutenant's already warned his crew not to talk, all of them -- including, ultimately, the Lieutenant himself -- give just enough "innocent" yet vital information that allows von Behn to figure out where the next U.S. bombing raid will occur. (Somewhere in a Russian airport, Edward Snowden is thinking, Dude, just get the thumb drive!) To make doubly sure Resisting Enemy Interrogation's intended audience gets the point, each bit of incriminating info is accompanied by a melodramatic music sting. Something like that in real life would make, say, police work much easier. 

"We have ways of making you talk.
Or making you not talk. Or something."
Von Behn learns exactly what he wants to know not through torture, but a combination of mind games, flattery, food and intimidation -- kind of like in your average family. Although your family might not have gone so far as to stage a mock-execution of your best friend in order to throw you off your game. But if this movie is any indication, it works well enough that you might want to try it sometime.



Today, he'd tell you to shut the F up.

Lloyd Nolan appears at the very end, as the American officer recapping what just transpired and, looking straight at the camera (i.e., the troops in the audience), dramatically intoning the film's mantra: "Don't talk." Or as he puts it, "Don't tawk." Pretty heavy New York accent for a guy born in San Francisco. That's Method acting before it even existed, and it's still a chilling moment.


George O'Hanlon out of uniform.
As usual with training films, Resisting Enemy Interrogation lacks credits, but was supposedly produced by Warner Brothers' contract player Ronald Reagan. The movie is filled with familiar character actors, including Don Porter (Gidget's father on TV in the '60s), Arthur Kennedy (Biff Loman in the original stage production of Death of a Salesman) and George Dolenz (father of future Monkee Mickey Dolenz), increasing the Warners vibe. While most of them would have been familiar in 1944, none of them were what you'd called stars, and thus fit into their roles without standing out unnecessarily. Oddly, Mel Torme is said to be in there somewhere, though I didn't notice him. On the other hand, I immediately recognized George O'Hanlon, the star of Warners' Joe McDoakes shorts and, years later, the voice of George Jetson. For this reason alone, I'd have made a great soldier -- this is the kind of trivia that would drive Nazi interrogators bonkers. "Send him back! He is boring me to death!"
 
I get the heebie-jeebies just looking at him.
But it's Carl Esmond who steals the show. As with his other Nazi role in the previously discussed Address Unknown, Esmond is scary just standing there, raising his voice only to intimidate the lying Major. It's frustrating when obviously great actors go essentially unrecognized for years while lesser talents hog the spotlight undeservedly (cough cough Keanu Reeves cough cough). Esmond quietly commands the movie here, never striking a false note. Unlike your stereotypically hammy Hollywood Nazi, it doesn't take much -- a lift of an eyebrow, a smile crossing his thin lips -- to scare the hell out of you. (Having emigrated from Germany in 1936, he was probably all-too familiar with the real thing.) In researching Esmond, I was surprised to discover that I saw him in his supporting (and final) role in My Wicked, Wicked Ways, the made-for-TV bio of Errol Flynn, in 1985. He died in 2004 at the age of 102, undoubtedly outliving the rest of Resisting Enemy Interrogation's cast, crew and probably most of their offspring.

Whoever decided Resisting Enemy Interrogation should be a straight-ahead narrative rather than an "educational" movie deserved a promotion. Because as both an historical artifact and a drama, this is one of the more fascinating pieces of wartime "entertainment" you'll ever see. And if you're a married man, take notes while you watch; many of the situations these guys go through will be familiar to you. Most obvious rule: Don't try to lie. They'll see right through it and it only gets them angrier.

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To view Resisting Enemy Interrogation on YouTube, click here.
To read about Address Unknown, click here. To read about Nazty Nuisance, click here.

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