Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939)

“It’s a new kind of war — but it’s still war.”

When a German doctor (Paul Lukas) comes to America to foment support for the Nazi cause, an unemployed man (Francis Lederer) eagerly joins forces with him in a fifth column — but they and their secret compatriots are soon foiled by an FBI sting headed by an intrepid agent (Edward G. Robinson).


When discussing Paul Lukas’s Oscar-winning role in Watch on the Rhine (1943) in his Alternate Oscars, Peary notes that he prefers seeing the Hungarian-born Lukas as a “baddie” — including in this flick (based in part on the Rumrich Nazi Spy Case) as the head of an American espionage ring during World War II. According to TCM’s article, Confessions of a Nazi Spy was the “first anti-Nazi film produced by a major studio”, and it caused major ripple effects — including the banning of all Warner Brothers films in Germany. At this point in history, it must have been incredibly satisfying for Americans to watch an FBI dragnet ready to take down our hidden enemies — and while the lines between good and evil are starkly drawn, this feels like an acceptable narrative choice given the real-life stakes. Meanwhile, it’s exciting to see how the sting itself plays out.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Paul Lukas as Dr. Karl Kassel
  • Sol Polito’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, once, for its historical relevance. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.



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