Rendezvous (1935 film)
theatrical release poster
|Directed by||William K. Howard
Sam Wood (uncredited)
|Produced by||Lawrence Weingarten|
|Screenplay by||P. J. Wolfson
Bella and Samuel Spewack
Howard Emmett Rogers
|Based on||The American Black Chamber
by Herbert O. Yardley
|Music by||William Axt|
|Cinematography||William H. Daniels
James Wong Howe (uncredited)
|Edited by||Hugh Wynn|
Rendezvous is a 1935 spy film set in World War I, directed by William K. Howard, starring William Powell and Rosalind Russell and featuring Binnie Barnes, Lionel Atwill, Cesar Romero and Samuel S. Hinds. Powell plays an American cryptologist who tangles with German spies while falling in love.
The film's screenplay by P. J. Wolfson and George Oppenheimer was based on The American Black Chamber, the controversial memoirs of Herbert Yardley, founder and head of MI8, as adapted by Bella and Samuel Spewack.
In April 1917, former newspaperman William Gordon (William Powell) is commissioned in the U.S. Army. The day before he is to leave Washington, D.C. for France, he meets socialite Joel Carter (Rosalind Russell) at an embassy gathering. The couple spend the day together where Gordon confides that because he once wrote a book on cryptography under a pen name, the army is searching for him to put him to work behind a desk, but he is eager to get into the fighting. Just before he boards his train, Gordon is ordered to report to Assistant Secretary of War John Carter (Samuel S. Hinds). Over his objections, Carter assigns Gordon to the code-breaking room to help break an intercepted German message that Major Brennan (Lionel Atwill), an experienced British cryptologist, has been unable to decipher. Gordon learns that Carter is Joel's uncle, and that she revealed his true identity to keep him in Washington.
The U.S. is deeply concerned about the U-boat threat to its troop and supply convoys headed to France. To defeat the threat, British escorts will meet American transports before they enter the most dangerous zone. The rendezvous point will not be given to the ships until the day before they meet, transmitted by wireless in a new code devised by Major Brennan. An ammunition ship is sent first to test the new system. However a German spy ring in the city has already gained access to the code and deliberately allowed the ship through to lure more valuable troop transports into their U-boat trap. Gordon deciphers the intercepted message and realizing that the code has been compromised, alerts his superiors. A troop convoy has already sailed for France and in three days they will have to send it the rendezvous location in the no longer secret code.
Brennan suspects his mistress, Olivia Karloff (Binnie Barnes), has stolen his code. He catches her red-handed but is killed when in a panic she shoots him. Her unhappy superiors order her to divert the Americans away from the spy ring. Although he has a circular mailed to Olivia that contains a message written in invisible ink, and has her brought in for questioning, Gordon releases her to lead him to the rest of the spies. Joel mistakenly thinks he has been enchanted by her seductive wiles. Olivia covertly warns Captain Nicholas Nieterstein (Cesar Romero), an attaché in a foreign embassy but in reality part of the spy ring, that the Americans have the circular, which requires use of a reagent to reveal the message. Olivia is told that the spy ring is going to betray Nieterstein to dupe the Americans into transmitting the message giving the rendezvous location to the troop convoy.
Dining later with Gordon, Olivia "accidentally" drops one of Nieterstein's military medals in her possession into a glass of water, revealing the reagent and his complicity. The stolen code book is found in his possession, put there by his own compatriots, and he is arrested. Nieterstein commits suicide by flinging himself through a window. Gordon forces Olivia to lead him to the spies in a hotel staffed by enemy agents. Joel jealousy follows them and becomes a hostage of the spy ring. Gordon is also captured and under duress pretends to decode the position message to the convoy. However he has given them coordinates that are actually the hotel's street address. When the spy ring passes along the information, the Americans intercept it and Carter recognizes the address. Justice Department agents shoot their way into the hotel to rescue Gordon and Joel. Gordon resumes his journey to France, but as he is about to board his train, Joel again uses her influence to keep him in Washington.
- A 15-year-old Mickey Rooney and the Marx Brothers' frequent comic foil Margaret Dumont – as the woman who auctions off a kiss from Joel Carter – have uncredited bit parts.
Rendezvous was originally intended as a comedy-mystery vehicle for Powell and Myrna Loy, but Loy at the time was "on strike" in order to get better pay from M-G-M. Rosalind Russell was still fairly new to Hollywood, having made only one film – 1934's Evelyn Prentiss, with Powell and Loy – when she was cast to replace Loy. Russell recalled:
I felt self-conscious. Powell and Loy had been a hit in The Thin Man, they were an unbeatable team, so my first day on Rendezvous, I tried to apologize. 'I know you don't want me, you'd rather have Myrna.' Powell denied it: 'I love Myrna, but I think this is good for you, and I'm glad we're doing it together.' He was not only a dear, he was cool. If an actor thought he could get any place by having tantrums, watching Bill Powell would have altered his opinion. I remember a story conference during which he objected to a scene that he felt wasn't right for him. He was at once imperious and lucid. 'It's beyond my histrionic ability to do this,' he said. I thought that was delicious.
The picture had several working titles including Blonde Countess, White Bird, and Puzzle Man. It was shot in five weeks from June 24 to July 29, 1935, although production was suspended for a time due to an attack of appendicitis suffered by Binnie Barnes.
When it was reported in the press that the studio was going to scrap the picture and rewrite and reshoot it, director William K. Howard responded that, in fact, they were only concerned about the ending of the film, which had been unsatisfactory from the beginning. The studio wanted to see what the audience response was in previews to guide it in crafting a new ending. Howard also announced that he was leaving the production due to a contractual obligation. Cinematographer William H. Daniels also left: they were replaced by Sam Wood and James Wong Howe, respectively, neither of whom received credit for their work. The studio brought in Herman Mankiewicz and Howard Emmett Rogers to work on the script; it was also reported that George S. Kaufman was involved in script meetings as well.
As a result of the rewrites, 17 new sets were built to shoot the new ending, which took place from September 6 to 26, with Wood directing and Howe behind the camera. The film as released, at 94 minutes, was 12 minutes shorter than the preview version, which ran 106 minutes.
Ben Urwand, a Junior Fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows, has asserted in his controversial history The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact With Hitler, that this was done for more sinister reasons. Before the final release of the film, the name of Romero's character was changed, apparently in post-production, from "Nickolajeff" to "Nieterstein." In at least 13 lines of dialog spoken by various actors, the name has obviously been over-dubbed, sometimes clumsily. In addition the nationality of the foreign embassy (presumably Russian) in which Nieterstein is an attaché has been cut from retained footage, and during the film the word "German" has been excised from a Samuel Hinds' line in one scene about the spy ring. Urwand documents correspondence in October 1935 regarding Rendezvous between the Nazi consul in Los Angeles, Georg Gyssling, and Joseph Breen, then chief censor for the MPAA.
Urwand contends that Gyssling used Breen to invoke the stipulation of the Hays Code that all nationalities must be treated fairly to censor the connection of Germany to the spy ring, even though the film specifically dates the plot in April 1917 and has an opening scene of a submarine crew speaking in German as it torpedoes a ship. Other references to Germany also remain. Urwand states that the German people were particularly sensitive to negative depictions of German spy rings from a multiplicity of such pre-Code films in the 1920s, and considered films showing their defeats (such as All Quiet on the Western Front) as damaging to national prestige. However the final release still retains the line "German spy ring" in its conclusion, and the link of the numerous over-dubbings to the Nazi pressure is dubious and may simply be coincidental, inasmuch as the title card of the re-shot version clearly lists the character as "Nieterstein."
At the time it was released, The New York Times film critic Andre Sennwald wrote: "With Mr. Powell at his debonair best, Rendezvous emerges as a lively and amusing melodrama.", although he referred to Russell as "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's second-string Myrna Loy." Variety said: "The comedy is cleverly worked into the action and becomes a part of it instead of an interpolation, and herein lies its success. Interest is never diverted from the thread of the story. Powell is at ease as the nonchalant decoder who can face danger with a grin and teams perfectly with Russell. She has both looks and intelligence, playing the wilful girl with delightful spirit."
In 1942, the story was updated to World War II and filmed as Pacific Rendezvous with Lee Bowman and Jean Rogers in the Powell and Russell roles. Yardley's book was not credited as a source, nor were adapters Bella and Sam Spewack, but the two original screenwriters, P.J. Wolfson and George Oppenheimer, were given credit for the remake's screenplay.
- "Notes" on TCM.com
- Sennwald, Andre (October 26, 1935). "Movie Review: Rendezvous (1935)". The New York Times. Retrieved March 16, 2014.
- Nixon, Rob. "Rendezvous (1935)" (article) on TCM.com
- Russell, Rosalind; Chase, Chris (1977). Life is a Banquet. Random House. p. 59. ISBN 9780394421346.
- Urwand, Ben (2013). The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact With Hitler, Belknap Press, ISBN 978-0-674-72474-7, pp. 178—179.
- "Review: Rendezvous". Variety. December 31, 1934. Retrieved March 16, 2014.
- Rendezvous at the American Film Institute Catalog
- Rendezvous at the TCM Movie Database
- Rendezvous at the Internet Movie Database
- Rendezvous at AllMovie