Thursday, February 21, 2013

Resisting Enemy Interrogation - 1944


 
“Resisting Enemy Interrogation” (1944) is an intriguing film partly because of what it accomplishes, and partly because of what it represents.  It was a training film made by the Army Air Corps, but tells a story so skillfully that it was nominated for an Academy Award for best feature-length documentary.  Some well-known Hollywood stars appear in it, and some unknowns who later became stars.
This post is part of the Fabulous Films of the 1940s Blogathon hosted by the Classic Movie Blog Association.  Please visit the other blogs listed here at the CMBA website for more great films of the Forties.
“Resisting Enemy Interrogation” is a short film, only just over an hour, that shows a bomber crew being captured by the Germans.  The film begins with the narrator, Lloyd Nolan, who will also appear later on in the film as a US debriefing officer.  Nolan drones the comfortable opening words, “Tired of it all, gentlemen?” 
The camera pans on a pleasant pastoral scene, but an undercurrent of tension soon begins to filter through and we are brought to an interrogation camp in this idyllic countryside where the men of this crew, and us by proxy, will be put through a very serious test.  How much will they reveal to the enemy? 
 
The film was made by the US Army Air Corps First Motion Picture Unit (or FMPU).  We’ll discuss more about this unique unit of World War II American forces next week.  Hundreds of films were made by this unit, some were for raising morale, some were meant for recruitment, but most were like “Resisting Enemy Interrogation”, training films.
One of the marvels of US participation in World War II was our country’s speedy production of war materials (we had a lot of ground to make up when our enemies had spent a generation preparing for war), and also our speedy preparation of fighting troops.  We took hundreds of thousands of civilians with no military experience and en mass turned them into warriors.  Urgency and survival compelled us to act quickly.  One of the best tools for doing this turned out to be film.
The young people who became our fighting forces were the first generation to have grown up watching movies.  What better device to teach them?  This was a new tactic for teaching, not only for the military, and would lead to the use of multi-media in education ever afterward.
“Resisting Enemy Interrogation” was not just a series of do’s and don’ts.  It had a story, and what may be surprising to the audience is that the Germans here are not presented as bombastic, evil, stupid stereotypes.  They are the tricky enemy, to be sure, with no good intent.  But we look over their shoulders watching their efforts to deceive the Americans; we spend as much time observing their viewpoint as their captives'.  Their calm sleuthing is set against the Americans’ anxiety.  It makes for a fascinating story. 
 
As the American crew is led to their captivity, they are warned by co-pilot Don Porter, “We will not talk.”  He reminds them they are to provide to the enemy only their name, rank, and serial number.  As the movie unfolds, we see the many devious ways the Germans have of extracting more information from them—using trickery, kindness, intimidation, and even using simple small talk as a way of furthering how much information they acquire.
The German head of command, played by Carl Esmond, whom you may have seen in dozens of films and TV, is a clever, mannered chap who is teaching a new officer (and us) about interrogation.  He remarks, “Just as there is no such thing as an innocent question, there is no such thing as a valueless statement.”
Anything the American men say can be useful to the enemy.  One by one, through the course of this film, we see how they are tricked.  If we found ourselves in the same situation we might be fooled in the very same way.  It all seems so innocent.
Like many of FMPU’s films, this had a cast largely of unknowns, some of whom would later become more familiar to us.  Don Porter plays an officer in the downed bomber crew, easy going, and genuinely surprised to be given a nice room and treated royally by his captors.  Later in the film when Commandant Esmond primes the pump by dropping hints that he already knows all about the bomber’s mission, Porter shrugs, figures, oh, well, if it’s common knowledge—and spills facts.
Kent Smith plays a German officer who was raised in the US, and so with his knowledge and his comfortable camaraderie with the American boys, tricks them into trusting him.
Hans Twardowski has minor role as a German Red Cross representative, also out to trick the men into filling out Red Cross forms that ask too much information.  You may remember him from “Casablanca” as a Nazi soldier.
James Seay plays the bomber crew Captain, most stalwart of the group, yet even he slips up and gives information he has no idea he’s giving.
Arthur Kennedy is a standout in the film as a cocky crewmember who thinks he’s going to outwit the Germans by giving them false info, but they are onto him and twist his words so that they find out the truth.  Kennedy gives a raw performance as man who is clearly rattled by these mind games.
It’s interesting to watch the Germans cleverly sort out the mystery of where the downed bomber came from, and where it was going.  By putting together small bits of information the men have unwittingly given them in unguarded moments, the Germans discover where the next raid of American bombers is likely to come from and where their next target is to be. 
When that next bomber mission occurs, the Nazis are waiting for them.  They shoot down most of the squadron of planes.  The footage, simulated obviously, of the American planes being shot down is not what that first generation of boys who grew up on movies would have ever expected to see.  It is brutal, with planes on fire, with machinegun fire ripping through crews, and images of blood spurting from the heads and faces of pilots and gunners.  The lesson about not talking is driven home graphically.
Only a few crews from this mission limp home.  They are debriefed by Lloyd Nolan, and bewildered over how the mission could have failed so badly. 
Rand Brooks has a small part as an American  back at the base, who grimly makes the accusation, “Somebody talked!”
George O’Hanlon, whom you might remember from a bunch of “Joe McDoakes” shorts also appears back at the base.  Mel Torme has a bit part as a pilot, though I confess I didn’t spot him.
Craig Stevens plays a returning pilot back at the base as well, interrogated by Lloyd Nolan after the disastrous mission.  Nolan, in that wonderfully edgy, serious tone that makes you pay attention to him no matter how quietly he is speaking, calms the men and tells them that the only information they are ever to give is their name, rank, and serial number.  Above all, don’t talk.
 
Then he looks right into the camera, right at us.  “Don’t talk.  Don’t talk.  Don’t talk.”
We may never talk again.
The FMPU was comprised of men from all the different Hollywood studios.  Some of them were not actually in the Army Air Corps, like Nolan, and like occasional guest actor Guy Kibbee.  The others who were, ranged from actors, writers, directors, cameramen, many of whom served their entire hitch here in Hollywood, and others who went on combat missions photographing the war, or to serve in other units.  More on that next week.
I’m not certain at this time the military rank of the men who performed in this film or many other FMPU training films.  I do believe Arthur Kennedy was a sergeant.  I believe Craig Stevens was a corporal.  Sgt. David Rose, incidentally, composed the music score for this film.
The AMC channel broadcast a documentary in 1997 made by Gregory Orr Productions called
“Hollywood Commandos”, about the First Motion Picture Unit, and we’ll be discussing that next Thursday.
“Resisting Enemy Interrogation”, now in the public domain, can be watched here on YouTube.

19 comments:

Caftan Woman said...

I look forward to catching this soon. What a unique and fascinating choice for the blogathon. You remind us of the power of film and the power of story. Lessons remain when we can relate to characters.

I don't imagine any classic movie fan will be surprised to read that Arthur Kennedy steals the show.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Yes, Arthur Kennedy has become a favorite of many of us for good reason. I'd love to know what you think of the movie after you've seen it.

KimWilson said...

These old war documentaries are fun to watch. They good insights into the power of propaganda. Also, as you noted, it showed educators another way to deliver knowledge to students. Very interesting post.

John/24Frames said...

Wow, what a unique pick! Interesting stuff, I am going to have to check this out. I was actually in a Army training film back in the late 60's just before being shipped off to Vietnam. It was during my basic training. One morning, a group of us were just pulled out of out regular training and sent to the mess hall. It ended up they were doing some sort of training film and they needed G.I.'s to stand in the food line. That and a couple of other scenes took all day. That was my first and last film (LOL). Enjoyed readin this!

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thank you, Kim. It certainly was a new tactic for training personnel.

John, thanks, and I wish I could have seen your film debut. I'll be you were smashing in that food line.

Page said...

Jacqueline,
I haven't seen this film which is too bad. I enjoy any film that gives us a feel for what wartime was like and Hollywoods interpretation of it.

The only actor I'm familiar with is Arthur Kennedy and I do agree that he was a good actor. He certainly deserved better name recognition.

Your reviews always make my mind wander to a different time and place which is the nicest of things, compliments.

This is why you're a published author, my friend! : )

See you soon!
Page

Patti Gardner said...

What a wonderful addition to the blogathon! I'll bet not many of us even knew such a teaching film existed.

I've come to really like Arthur Kennedy. He puts in a great performance. It's sad that he was nominated for an Academy Award so many times, yet never walked away with one. He's quite terrific. I can well believe he was the stand-out in this film.

Thanks for a great review.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

You are so kind, Page. Your mind wandering off to a different time and place in these posts is very dear to me, and a very high compliment indeed.

Glad to see Arthur Kennedy fans here.

Rick29 said...

A most fascinating selection--which I had never heard of. (Of course, it's rare I get to see the Academy Award nominees for best feature-length documentary--though I'm watching a 2012 nominee this weekend). Thanks for educating about this Army-made training film...I love learning something new.

FlickChick said...

What an interesting post! Thank you so much for sharing this most important role played by film in the 1940s.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thank you Patti, Rick and FlickChick. It's been a fun blogathon with a lot of great posts by everyone.

Kevin Deany said...

Wow, what a find and a most interesting post. Like others, I've never heard of this, but will catch it on You Tube. I'll happily watch anything with Lloyd Nolan in it.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thanks, Kevin. I like Lloyd Nolan, too.

The Lady Eve said...

Jacqueline, I saw the title of your blogathon contribution listed on the CMBA site and wondered why I'd never heard of it. Now I understand. How interesting! I'll be making the trip to YouTube now.

Classicfilmboy said...

I really like this selection and your analysis. I will have to look for it. Films like this are forgotten today until someone like you reminds us of how good and important they are, so thank you for your selection.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thank you, Eve and FilmBoy, I hope you find the movie interesting.

silverscreenings said...

So glad you included this in the blogathon. Looks really interesting, especially with Arthur Kennedy and Kent Smith. Thanks for a great review!

DorianTB said...

Jacqueline, RESISTING ENEMY INTERROGATION was a truly inspired entry for the Fabulous '40s Blogathon! Your post was quite sobering, with plenty of food for thought, considering we're still at war, too. Quute a cast of future stars, too; as a fan of TV's PETER GUNN, I was impressed to see him in this film. Now I'm looking forward to checking it out on YouTube! Thanks for sharing this important piece of our history!

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thank you both. It is fun to spot actors we later came to know as stars, but who were just B-actors at the time.

Dorian, I'm a big "Peter Gunn" fan, too.