4 July 1999 | stryker-5
Leaden, Ludicrous World War Two Spy Saga
Melanie Griffith plays Linda, a jewish American girl who volunteered to enter Nazi Germany as a spy. She tells her story in flashback, an old woman relating her adventures to a BBC documentary crew.
Griffith is improbable as the shrewd, resourceful, bilingual Linda. Her 'all-American girl' style of delivery is grating and inappropriate. Michael Douglas, as Ed Leland, makes a passable spy hero, but his character's unwillingness to learn the German language doesn't make any kind of sense, given that he spends most of his working life strutting around Berlin in a Nazi uniform. Sir John Gielgud plays 'Sunflower', 'our' agent in Berlin. Gielgud goes through the motions, as Gielgud usually does, without acting at all. Otto Dietrich, the high-ranking Nazi, is played fairly convincingly and with dignity by Liam Neeson. Joely Richardson is reasonable, even if her character (Margrete von Everstein) is a welter of ill-thought-out nonsense.
David Seltzer wrote and directed this rather lame thriller, and packed it with historical inaccuracies and implausible plot points. The teenage Linda is asked in the course of her job interview to stand and give a twirl, so that the men can get a look at her. She refuses on feminist grounds. This is simply unbelievable, and shows a complete lack of sympathy for the mores and attitudes of a historical period which doesn't happen to be the present day.
Cliche bogs this movie down and robs it of any sense of freshness or vitality that it might have had. For no very good reason, we get a sombre 'Pearl Harbor' moment, even though America's entry into the war is irrelevant to the plot. Espionage in Germany means that the German and spy-movie stereotypes have to be trotted out, so apfel strudel, schnapps and the microfilming of secret documents all find their way into the story. Nazi border guards just have to have slavering alsatian dogs.
Part of the film's problem is a clumsy script which contains some horribly clunking lines. Such mouthfuls as, "What 's a war for, if not to hold onto what we love?" grate on the ear. The German security forces are referred to in heavy-handed purple prose as "Hitler's dreaded stormtroopers".
Continuing the run of blatant improbabilities, Sunflower and Linda board a German train and immediately start discussing Drescher in English - two mind-boggling lapses in security. And would Sunflower use the polite 'ihre' form when addressing a working-class girl?
In order to give the plot some dramatic contours, events are introduced which could never have happened in real life. The film sacrifices credibility for the sake of a cheap shot.
The finale at the border crossing is too silly to merit criticism.