Director: Fritz Lang
Script: Albert Maltz and Ring Lardner Jnr
Cast: Gary Cooper, Robert Alda, Uladimir Sokoloff, J. Edward Bromberg, Marjorie Hoshelle, Ludwig Stossel, Lilli Palmer
Running time: 106 minutes
Nuclear physicist Alvah Jesper (Gary Cooper) is recruited by an old friend of his, Col Walsh, (who now happens to be working for the Office of Strategic Services), to become an undercover agent. The Allies suspect that the Germans are close to being able to create an atomic bomb and, since two of their top operatives working on this case have just been killed, the service is desperate for Alvah’s help. Alvah is reluctant to become a secret agent, but understands the severity of the situation so agrees to help.
Alvah soon finds himself travelling to Switzerland to meet with fellow scientist Katerin Lodor (Helene Thimig), who has escaped Germany in order to avoid helping their cause, but she is now being blackmailed by them to head over to Italy to continue her work for them. Alvah promises to get her help, but, after he leaves the hospital she’s currently convalescing in, she is kidnapped by the Germans. He leads a rescue attempt, but it doesn’t go according to plan and they are forced to rethink their strategy.
I don’t really want to say any more about the plot of Cloak and Dagger as I don’t want to spoil anything for fresh viewers. All I will say is the story unwinds in some surprising ways and there’s plenty of incident along the way.
Based on an original story by Boris Ingster and John Larkin, and further suggested by the book by Corey Ford and Alastair MacBain, Cloak and Dagger is a great example of a war-time set film noir, with added levels of espionage. Part spy thriller, part patriotic war film and part romantic melodrama, Fritz Lang’s movie is certainly an interesting mix of sub-genres.
Gary Cooper makes for a great spy and Lilli Palmer (introduced to US audiences for the first time here) is wonderful as the resistance fighter Gina. Together the two have gun battles, romantic cuddles, and some hair-raising narrow escapes.
Maz Steiner’s score nicely underlines the mix of romance and action, and Lang directs with his typical aplomb and panache.
A couple of things haven’t aged so well about the film. Firstly, seeing everyone smoking on screen, which was very much de rigour at the time, and also the relationship between Cooper and Palmer, while mostly convincing, does seem unrealistic when compared with how couples react to each other these days.
However, one aspect that does seem very modern is the brutality of the fight scenes. Lang really has his actors go for it with plenty of dirty fighting, and semi- martial arts moves thrown in, especially in the fight where Alvah has to make his first kill. James Bond, eat your heart out – Lang was there many years before you were!
Unfortunately, although picture and sound quality are generally very good for a film of this age, there are a few scenes – probably around reel changes – where some print damage is fairly evident, which is a real (or should that be, reel?) shame.
Cloak and Dagger is being distributed by Eureka!, on their Masters of Cinema label, on dual format; both DVD and Blu-ray. There are a number of extras on the disc including:
A brand new audio commentary by film critic and writer Alexandra Heller- Nicholas;
Spycraft (19 mins) – an interesting video essay by David Cairns, where Cairns talks about Lang’s love of thrillers, about the historical background to the film and about the dirty fighting actually taught to agents by the OSS.
Cloak and Dagger – Lux Radio Theater; Episode 614 – (58 mins) a radio play featuring Ronald Reagan in the Gary Cooper role. The sound quality is a bit on the quiet side, but it’s still entertaining stuff.
Cloak and Dagger, the radio series (approx. 660 mins) – Again this is showing its age a bit, but is still worth a listen.
A collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by Samm Deighan (not included with the review disc so I can’t comment on it beyond the fact that it’s included in the set).