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Laramie Movie Scope:
36 Hours

Psychological wartime thriller with Hitchcockian twists

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by Patrick Ivers, Film Critic
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(1964, b/w; English, German, Portuguese, French) A "Special Edition - Build-Up in Britain" newsreel opens the film: "That an invasion is forthcoming is now accepted fact. But where and when is known only to a handful of men. So far, the time and place is the best-kept military secret of the war."

On May 31st, 1944, Major Jefferson F. Pike (James Garner) enters the London office of Colonel Peter MacLean (Alan Napier). "Mac, you amaze me," says Pike: "Over 300,000 men waiting for us at the wrong place and you're worried." MacLean replies: "Well, this business is very much like marriage, Jeff. When things are going along smoothly, you can't help but get suspicious."

Pointing out to his friend and superior that historically "the only possible invasion route" is "Dover to Calais," Pike says: "It makes sense, Mac. Maybe we have fooled them." The colonel counters: "It makes better sense to assume we haven't."

To get further assurances, Pike is sent back to Lisbon, Portugal, to meet with his "trustworthy and reliable" (in a reverse sort of way) contact, a clerk in the embassy. Counting on Portugal's neutrality in the war, Pike relaxes for a meal in a restaurant in Sudacões where he's drugged, kidnapped, and transported under heavy sedation inside a casket by plane to Germany.

Before Pike regains consciousness inside an elaborate set-up isolated inside Germany, appearing to be a US military hospital with everyone on the site acting like Americans speaking English, Major Walter Gerber (Rod Taylor), American-born psychologist, says to Anna Hedler (Eva Marie Saint) in the role of a nurse: "Anna, so much of this depends on you. Do you have any doubts?" "No, sir." "You've studied his biography?" questions Gerber. "Every word of it," she answers.

A team of cosmetic specialists has dyed Pike's hair, induced changes in his skin, and applied drops of atropine to blur his vision so that he must wear glasses. However, Gerber learns that if he's unsuccessful in his unorthodox efforts to obtain information from the American officer without torture - a method proven in 18 previous cases with soldiers suffering from battle fatigue and nervous breakdown - for which he's been preparing for the past year, the SS will take over; he has little more than 24 hours left of the original 36 hours granted to accomplish the task.

Gerber complains to his sympathetic superior, Lt Col Karl Ostermann (Oscar Beregi): "Pike attended the final briefing of the Allied High Command on April the 15th. He knows every detail of the invasion. And he'll tell me everything we wanna know, openly, completely, willingly, if given enough time."

When Pike awakes in his hospital bed, he realizes he can't see well enough to read a copy of Stars and Stripes without a pair of glasses: the date is May 15th, 1950. Frightened and disoriented, he bursts from the room where Gerber ("Don't get panicky") and Anna ("You're going to be fine") are waiting for him.

Eager to have the American handed over to him when the experiment fails, standartenführer Otto Schack (Werner Peters), claiming to be "a practical man," says to Gerber: "Why don't you turn the prisoner over to me now and avoid the risk of failure, huh?" "And that way, you could avoid the risk of my success," answers the major. The SS officer warns the doctor that more than just his reputation is at stake here. As for Miss Hedler's reliability, a Jew, Gerber assures Schack that she will do almost anything to be kept from being sent back to the concentration camp.

Claiming to be Jeff's friend as well as physician, Walt explains hysterical amnesia to Pike: "You possessed information you didn't want to reveal. And also, the experience, the beating, was too painful to tolerate. So as a defense mechanism, a protection, and a protection against revealing the invasion plans, you just washed it out of your brain. Wasn't a conscious effort on your part; you just had no control over it. It just happened."

Treatment has largely recovered memories from before his capture and brutal torture in 1944, but the six years entirely missing since then are the result of anterograde amnesia. Curious but confused about those half dozen years of which he has no recall, Pike learns from Walt of Germany and Japan's defeat, his personal history (involving several incidents of partial recovery and regression), and of his father's improved health, given several letters sent by his parent.

Formerly confined at Auschwitz and Ravensbrück, Anna surprises him with being his wife of the past two months: "You came here wanting to remember. I wanted just as desperately to forget." By the time Pike puts his finger on what's happening, he's already spilled the beans to Gerber and Schack in director/writer George Seaton's psychological wartime thriller with Hitchcockian misdirection, twists and turns, based on Roald Dahl's short story, "Beware of the Dog." Musical score was composed and conducted by Dimitri Tiomkin.

"I'll do anything to help you," pleads Anna after Pike becomes aware of her role in the deception: "Believe me…. Trust me. You've got no other choice." "All right," says Pike: "I want you to run out of here hysterically. Tell him I know it's a hoax and that I've known from the beginning, but tell him nothing else." He then tries what he knows will be a futile attempt at escape.

From IMDb: John Banner as the clownish Ernst "achieved television immortality for his portrayal of the Luftwaffe prison-camp guard Sergeant Schultz in the TV series Hogan's Heroes (1965) ... The 28-year-old Banner, who was Jewish, was forced to abandon his homeland after the 1938 Anschluss (union) between Nazi Germany and Austria, which occurred while he was engaged in a tour of Switzerland with an acting company. Unable to return to Austria due to Hitler's anti-Semitic policies of persecution, he immigrated to the United States as a political refugee."

Also: "James Doohan: The soon-to-be 'Montgomery Scott' of Star Trek is uncredited as a British orderly in the opening scenes. Doohan served in Canadian forces during the Normandy Invasion (which the film is about) where he lost part of a finger…. The Star Trek franchise has occasionally made parodies of this movie, most notably Star Trek: The Next Generation: Future Imperfect (1990)."

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2015 Patrick Ivers. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Patrick Ivers can be reached via e-mail at nora's email address at juno. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

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