Friday, October 5, 2018

THE JAMES MASON BLOGATHON: 5 Fingers (1952)


The James Mason Blogathon hosted by Maddy Loves Her Classic Movies runs on October 5th and 6th. Click HERE for the tributes to the revered actor.

Based on a true story, the spy drama could easily fall into the category of the post-war film-noir docudramas, but as it was directed by and was co-written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and Michael Wilson (Bridge on the River Kwai), it features a lot of wry humour that sets it apart.

The book Operation Cicero written by L.C. Moyzisch to explain his view of his role in the war following the Nuremberg Trials and his tale of the machinations of a British Spy was a sensation. From the point of view of the 21st century, WW2 seems so cut and dried as to "good guys" and "bad guys", but people are never that easy.

James Mason, Oskar Karlweis

Our spy in 5 Fingers is called Ulysses Diello and he is played by James Mason (Odd Man Out). Diello is an Albanian national and a very ambitious valet in the service of the British Ambassador played by Walter Hampden (All About Eve). They are stationed at the Embassy in neutral Turkey's capital, Ankara. It is a place where enemies can meet under the supposed flag of truce.

Diello aspires to move up from a gentleman's gentleman to becoming a gentleman. Requiring the wherewithal, he sees his opportunity in the classified information which passes through the Ambassador's office. Anonymously he reaches out to Moyzisch of the German Embassy, played by Oskar Karlweis (The Juggler) with a proposition. Diello will provide top secret or highly confidential information to the Germans in exchange for cash. Moyzisch passes this plan unto his superiors and the deal is set. The British spy is given the code name of Cicero.

Diello has a specific and unique attitude toward the term spy as he is in this game purely for the money. He doesn't even look closely at the documents he photographs for sale, only checking for the top secret or confidential classification.

"Spies are notoriously bad businessmen. Most of them are professional patriots, frustrated liberals or victims of blackmail. And in all such cases, the emotional involvement weakens their bargaining position and destroys sound business judgements."

Moyzisch fell for Diello's act and when asked his impression of this contact by the German Ambassador related the following:

"Well, sir, I'd pick him to be a highly trained special agent; a foreign office career man. British, of course. An Oxford-bred aristocrat if ever I saw one. You know the type, sir. Arrogant, spoiled, cynical and completely decadent."


Danielle Darrieux

Diello had previously been in the employ of the Count and Countess Staviska of Poland and the widowed Countess Anna played by Danielle Darrieux (The Earrings of Madame De...)is now in Ankara as the Nazis have taken her fortune. For Diello, Anna represents everything that was gracious about the old days. He uses his newfound wealth to set her up as she would like to remain accustomed. They plan to use forged papers to move to South America when they have accumulated the proper amount of money.

Diello should have paid more attention to his own opinion on emotional weakness combined with business. His tender feelings toward Countess Anna prove unfounded as the Countess absconds with Diello's ill-gotten gain to the safety of Switzerland.

Michael Rennie

Meanwhile, British Intelligence has twigged to the loss of their secrets and Colin Travers played by Michael Rennie (The Day the Earth Stood Still) is sent to investigate the situation at the Embassy. The timing could not be worse for Diello. Having to begin his bankroll again from scratch he has taken a particular assignment from the Germans. They are concerned about the prevalence in previous documents of the code name "Overlord" and want more information. Diello has no compunction in providing what is demanded as long as the money meets his demand.

Diello explains his attitude toward the commodity in which he deals, despite certainty that the Germans will lose the war which is why he deals only in British pounds.

"Firstly, I cannot sell you the ability to make proper use of the information I got for you. Secondly, by informing a man about to be hanged of the exact size, location and strength of the rope you do not remove the hangman or the certainty of his being hanged." 

Forced to rush this last job for the Germans (for the money), it is seemingly inconsequential events which bring Diello's treachery to light. The Germans want the information and the man. The British want to keep him out of German hands. The chase is on!


Exterior shots for 5 Fingers were filmed in Turkey and it lends a genuine excitement to the chase and reminder that the events depicted in the movie are based on facts which occurred not that very long ago.

You can well imagine the talented James Mason combining with the literate and witty script creating a slick and fascinating performance as Diello. The audience cannot help but admire his bravado and root for his success, yet still understand his selfishness so well that we delight in his eventual and ironic downfall. You can't trust anyone!


Trivia:

A 1956 television episode of 20th Century Fox Hour called Operation Cicero starred Ricardo Montalban as our spy. David Hedison played Cicero in 5 Fingers, a 1959 mini-series.












20 comments:

  1. Five Fingers is a great movie. Not only is Mason good, it has Danielle Darrieux in it too. Mason is one of the most underrated actors. Somehow he managed to make a traitor attractive.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So true. You don't want to root for the guy, but that darn old James Mason!

      Delete
  2. Paddy Lee, a wonderful write-up of a top notch movie. I really like this movie of espionage. Yes, 5 FINGERS is loosely based on a true story, but we all know that the great actor James Mason will make his character, whether based on a real person or not, his own smooth, eloquent, and confident persona. Mason is extraordinarily good here, although his Ulysses Diello resembles the real Elyesa Bazna in no way, whatsoever. James Mason was a master of performance filmed art.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. James Mason truly pulls out all the stops, yet is so subtle in his interpretation that he wins you over and plays with your reaction before you can take a breath to realize what is happening. That witty script would not be as memorable if not in his hands.

      Delete
  3. James Mason made a number of good spy films, with the best probably being this one and THE DEADLY AFFAIR (where he plays George Smiley). I always enjoy watching Michael Rennie, a classy actor with a commanding presence.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rennie is so good and so at ease in so many different roles. I love the combination of him and Mason in this winner. I haven't seen The Deadly Affair in a long time. You are playing havoc with the supposed movie schedule I have in my head.

      Delete
  4. This is a movie I saw on TV when I was very young and never forgot it. I happened to see 5 Fingers again a few years ago (after all those years) and understood why I'd been so captivated as a child. Great story, wonderful actors, a nice twist at the end. James Mason was perfectly cast. So happy to see him honored with a blogathon he more than deserves.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Indeed. James Mason deserves to be talked about, especially in glowing terms. I first saw 5 Fingers as a youngster as well and while I'm not sure I understood the history, I definitely never forgot it. Subsequent viewings have been a delight.

      Delete
  5. Dear Paddy Lee,

    This is a really good review! I enjoyed reading it. This sounds like a really good film. Is it a British picture? You are a very good writer.

    By the way, I would like to invite you to join "The Second Annual Great Breening Blogathon." This blogathon, which will be taking place on October 12-17, is a celebration of the Code, its Era, and its enforcer, Joseph I. Breen. We are using this blogathon to honor Joseph Breen on his 130th birthday, which would have been on October 14. However, we are extending the blogathon to October 17 to celebrate the second anniversary of PEPS, which was founded on October 17, 2016. You can participate by breening a film that is not from the Breen Era (1934-1954) or by analyzing a Code films. You can also discuss an aspect of the Code, its influence on Hollywood, or Mr. Breen itself. You can find out more and join here: https://pureentertainmentpreservationsociety.wordpress.com/2018/09/27/announcing-the-second-annual-great-breening-blogathon/.

    I would also like to invite you to join a blogathon which my sister, Rebekah, is hosting in November. On November 9-11, PEPS is hosting the Claude Rains Blogathon in honor of this marvelous actor's 129th birthday on November 10. You can read the announcements and sign up here: https://pureentertainmentpreservationsociety.wordpress.com/2018/10/02/five-minutes-everybody-the-curtains-going-up-on-the-claude-rains-blogathon/.

    I hope that you'll be able to join! We could really use your talents.

    Yours Hopefully,

    Tiffany Brannan

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I won't commit right now to the blogathons, but I'll consider where I can contribute. Appreciate the links.

      Thank you for your kind remarks regarding this review. 5 Fingers was a Hollywood produced picture filmed in international locations.

      Delete
  6. Dear Paddy Lee,

    Thank you for your prompt response! I appreciate the information about this picture. It certainly sounds interesting. I look forward to hearing your decision about our blogathons. Good luck with your endeavors!

    Yours Hopefully,

    Tiffany Brannan

    ReplyDelete
  7. I love, LOVE this film, and after reading your review, I immediately bookmarked it on YouTube to watch soon. I first saw this film several years ago; although I never saw the beginning, I never forgot it, or James Mason's incredible performance.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm happy if I was able to kick it around your memory to a top rewatch spot. It is a movie to savour, especially James Mason's performance.

      Delete
  8. 5 Fingers is just so good!!! It's one of my favorite underrated films of all time. Of course, James Mason delivers a fantastic performance, but the twists and surprises in the plot are what really conquered me. Your review certainly did justice to usch a great movie.
    As with Caught, at first I also couldn't find id on IMDb with this title. It looks like Caught was the original title, and Wild Calendar one of the many titles it received in the US - and I may understand what a wild agenda means, but not a wild calendar.
    Kisses!
    Le

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Calendars are anything but wild!

      I think we both chose well in highlighting these two James Mason films. Thanks a lot.

      Delete
  9. Hi Paddy. Reading your review, I am left wondering as to why I have never gotten around to seeing this one. It sounds like a great role for James and a cracking film. Thanks for joining me to celebrate James Mason.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My pleasure, Maddy. This is definitely a movie that you will enjoy. It is exciting that you have yet to see it. What a treat!

      Delete
  10. Absolutely love this film and you've done real justice in the way you've written about it. Always enjoy your work! Best regards, Paul

    ReplyDelete

CHRISTMAS ON REMAKE AVENUE: Kind Lady 1935 and 1951

Hugh Walpole's short story The Silver Mask  was the basis for Edward Chodorov's play Kind Lady. Grace George starred in the 193...