Confessions of a Nazi Spy
|Confessions of a Nazi Spy|
1939 Theatrical Poster
|Directed by||Anatole Litvak|
|Produced by||Hal B. Wallis
Jack L. Warner
|Written by||Leon G. Turrou (articles)
John Wexley (screenplay)
|Starring||Edward G. Robinson
|Music by||Max Steiner (uncredited)|
|Edited by||Owen Marks|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
Confessions of a Nazi Spy is a 1939 American spy thriller film and the first blatantly anti-Nazi film produced by a major Hollywood studio. The film stars Edward G. Robinson, Francis Lederer, George Sanders, Paul Lukas, and a large cast of German actors, including some who had emigrated from their country after the rise of Adolf Hitler. Though the film can be seen as propaganda, it was based on the articles of former FBI agent Leon G. Turrou, who had been active in investigating Nazi spy rings in the United States prior to the war, and lost his position at the Bureau when he published the articles without permission.
The film failed at the box office. Nonetheless, it was named 1939's best film by the National Board of Review. Confessions of a Nazi Spy was banned in Germany, Japan, and many Latin American and European countries.
The film was re-released in 1940 with scenes describing events that had taken place since the initial release, such as the invasions of Norway and the Netherlands. Scenes from Confessions of a Nazi Spy are shown in War Comes to America, the last of the Why We Fight propaganda film series, as well as the 2004 documentary film Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust.
This movie is one of a number of films made during the late 1930s and early 1940s that represented pro-American intervention in the war, including films such as A Yank in the R.A.F. (1941), Man Hunt (1941), Foreign Correspondent (1940), The Mortal Storm (1940), and Sergeant York (1941).
Dr. Karl Kassel (Paul Lukas) comes to America to rally support for the Nazi cause among German Americans. He instructs his audience at a German restaurant that the Führer has declared war on the evils of democracy and that, as Germans, they should carry out his wishes. Kurt Schneider (Francis Lederer), an unemployed malcontent, joins the cause and eventually becomes a spy for the group. A letter written by Schneider to a liaison in Scotland is intercepted by a British Military Intelligence officer (James Stephenson), leading to the ring's downfall.
FBI Agent Ed Renard (Edward G. Robinson) is assigned to the case and is able to capture Schneider and extract a confession by flattering his ego. Through Schneider, Renard is led to Hilda Kleinhauer (Dorothy Tree), then Kassel's mistress Erika Wolff (Lya Lys), and eventually the ringleader himself. While the FBI manages to capture many members of the ring and their accomplices, several, including Kassel, are secretly spirited back to Germany, but some ultimately face a worse fate there.
The character and event portrayed by Ward Bond as an American Legionaire is based on an actual event that occurred in late April 1938 when approximately 30 World War I American Legion Veterans stood up to the Bund in New York City during a celebration of Hitler's birthday. The veterans were severely beaten and later Cecil Schubert, who suffered a fractured skull, was personally recognized for his bravery by Mayor La Guardia.
There are many similarities between the events depicted in the movie and the real world round up of the Nazi Duquesne Spy Ring in 1941.
In 1946, Robinson appeared in a post-war anti-Nazi film, The Stranger.
Throughout the production of the film, there was a boost in overall security because of the possibility of sabotage to the film by Nazi sympathizers. This fear was onset by the collapse of a boom mic that almost fell on Anatole Litvak, which is mentioned in a New York Times article published on April 2nd 1939, stating “Confessions of a Nazi Spy is finished, and to Warner’s undoubted astonishment, the studio has not been bombed by German agents, nor have the members of the cast been assaulted on the streets. In fact, nothing untoward happened onset other than the breaking of a mike boom, which for a few hours was hopefully regarded as an act of sabotage.”- Douglas W. Churchill, pg. 135. New York Times.
Adolf Hitler reportedly planned to execute the makers of this film upon winning the war. Some well-known actors (including Anna Sten and Marlene Dietrich) refused to be in the movie fearing reprisals against relatives living in Europe; a number of actors in the film changed their names for the same reason, accounting for large number of aka's in the cast list.
- Edward G. Robinson as Edward Renard
- Francis Lederer as Kurt Schneider
- George Sanders as Franz Schlager
- Paul Lukas as Dr. Karl Kassel
- Henry O'Neill as U.S. Atty. Kellogg
- Dorothy Tree as Hilda Kleinhauer
- Lya Lys as Erika Wolff
- Grace Stafford as Helen Schneider
- James Stephenson as British Military Intelligence agent
- Celia Sibelius as Lisa Kassel
- Joe Sawyer as Werner Renz
- Sig Ruman as Dr. Julius Krogmann
- Lionel Royce as Hintze
- Henry Victor as Hans Wildebrandt
- Hans Heinrich von Twardowski as Max Helldorf
- Wolfgang Zilzer as Johann Westphal
- Rudolph Anders as Capt. Wilhelm Straubel
- Eily Malyon as Mrs. MacLaughlin
- Ward Bond as American Legionnaire (uncredited)
- Joseph D'Onofrio. "Confessions of a Nazi Spy". tcm.com.
- Fox, John (FBI historian) on Turner Classic Movies broadcast, 24 July 2008
- Birdwell, Michael E. (1 February 2000). Celluloid Soldiers: Warner Bros. Campaign Against Nazism. NYU Press. p. 78. ISBN 978-0-8147-9871-3.
- Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust, 2004 documentary film, Daniel Anker
- Confessions of a Nazi Spy at the American Film Institute Catalog
- Confessions of a Nazi Spy on IMDb
- Confessions of a Nazi Spy at the TCM Movie Database
- Confessions of a Nazi Spy at AllMovie
- Confessions of a Nazi Spy: Warner Bros., Anti-Fascism and the Politicization of Hollywood at The Norman Lear Center