The Counterfeit Traitor (1962)

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This review is my second contribution to the Snoopathon: A Blogathon of Classic Spies, hosted by Movies, Silently from June 1-3. See the complete list of films and participants here.

The Counterfeit Traitor, as you may have guessed, is one of my favorite 1960s spy movies.

Most classic spy films focus on a single, critical piece of information – or a one-time, action-packed assignment. There are exceptions: Ingrid Bergman in Notorious, or George Smiley hunting the mole in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. But really, most movie spies are after MacGuffins. TV spies’ work is, by nature, episodic; movie spies generally have a mission to get in, get the information, and get out – as fast as possible. Occasionally, we catch up to embedded spies just as they’re escaping (or trying to). It’s less common to find a spy on a long-term, ongoing espionage assignment.

The Counterfeit Traitor‘s premise is loosely based on the story of Eric Erickson, a real WWII spy.

William Holden’s voice-over lays out the facts. The year: 1942. Eric Erickson is a Swedish oil executive (American by birth, now a Swedish citizen). He’s just been placed on a U.S. blacklist and disowned by his brother for – according to Erickson – no reason at all. A “Nazi collaborator,” the papers say. All he’s doing is trading oil with Germany! Sweden is neutral; he’s a businessman. Germany needs barrels of oil; Erickson likes barrels of money. Simple.

Simple, that is, until he meets a British intelligence agent (Collins, played by Hugh Griffith). Collins explains that he can arrange to remove Erickson from the blacklist after the war (a necessity if Erickson wants to keep his business a going concern), provided he serves as a spy. Erickson is ideally situated to discover critical information about Germany’s oil production, and pass it on to Allied Bomber Command. With his hand forced, Erickson agrees. In short order, he’ll also be compelled to turn visibly, actively pro-Nazi – publicly insulting his Jewish best friend, and even losing his wife in the process. He can’t tell anyone. And all for a cause he couldn’t care less about.

As much as it’s an exciting spy story (with a harrowing escape), The Counterfeit Traitor is also about the awakening of a collaborator’s conscience, and a tragic love story. It raises questions about moral responsibility, and doesn’t necessarily answer them. It’s a thrilling, gripping, bittersweet roller coaster of a tale.


 

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There’s too much here to summarize properly, and honestly, I don’t want to give away too many spoilers.  (Although I do share a few important ones, so be warned.) This is one you’ll want to watch. Instead, let me share some of the reasons and scenes that make it one of my favorites. There are lots of things to enjoy in this movie.

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Easter is just around the corner; expect some splashy springtime color posts coming soon to this blog. :) In the meantime, here’s a roundup of articles around the Intertubes which have interested me lately:

*  Gina Dalfonzo reviews Alec Guinness’ life and memoirs in “Blessed are the Introverts: Of Chameleons, Swans, and Sir Alec Guinness”. It was timely, as I’ve recently watched several Alec Guinness films. I’m rarely drawn to celebrity biography anything, being leery of poor writing, gossip, and a relentless cataloguing of messed-up lives. But Dalfonzo describes a skilled writer who could spin a story without dirt, and the introspective personality behind the great actor. I’ll be adding those memoirs to my reading list.

“Guinness writes honestly and yet guardedly, like a man who’s willing to share much and yet still keep something to himself. This reserve, which puzzles or repels some people, is one of the things I found myself liking most in him. Somehow, in the reticent pages of a memoir by an elderly British actor, I had discovered a kindred spirit.”

*  I LOVED Disney’s Frozen: both the story and the art. Brittney Lee recently concluded a series of posts about her contributions to the art of Frozen. The first entry: “FROZEN: Elsa and Her Ice Palace.”

*  On a more somber note: Paintings and sketches by Jewish children in Theresienstadt concentration camp during WWII.

*  The James Stewart Blogathon runs April 14-17. Having just seen Stewart in Bell, Book and Candle, I’m looking forward to reading all of these entries.