5 Fingers (1952)

“There’s nothing as real as money.”

Synopsis:
A valet (James Mason) working in Turkey for a British ambassador (Walter Hampden) to Germany enlists the help of an impoverished French countess (Danielle Darrieux) in carrying out espionage, planning to retire to South America with his gains — but will an investigator (Michael Rennie) discover his identity and foil his plans?

Genres:

Review:
Based on the real-life exploits of Albanian-born spy Elyesa Bazna, this smart thriller — directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and scripted by blacklisted writer Michael Wilson — features Mason giving one of his best performances (not an easy call to make), and remains suspenseful from beginning to end. Mason coolly takes calculated risks to achieve his goal of financial security, collaborating with an equally pragmatic and savvy woman (Darrieux) he believes he can rely on. The cinematography and sets are appropriately atmospheric, and Bernard Herrmann’s score gives clear indications of what was to come with his best-known work in Psycho (1960).

Note: According to TCM’s article, Mason referred to this as “one of the few films he made in Hollywood that he could still watch with pleasure”.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • James Mason as Ulysses Diello
  • Fine use of location shooting in Turkey
  • Atmospheric cinematography
  • Bernard Herrmann’s score
  • Michael Wilson’s screenplay:

    “Herr von Papen, I hope your country appreciates you. You’re the only unpredictable German I have ever met.”
    “So many more people go into German embassies than come out. I’ve often wondered what attraction could keep them there so long.”

Must See?
Yes, as an overall good show.

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One Response to “5 Fingers (1952)”

  1. Agreed; must see, “as an overall good show”. As per my post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “Counter-espionage is the highest form of gossip.”

    ‘5 Fingers’ (1952): One thing director Joseph L. Mankiewicz must be given particular credit for was his willingness to tackle and bring to the screen various forms of entertainment. Known as a rather well-read man, JLM would apparently delve into any genre (drama, comedy, musicals, classics, etc.) in search of something challenging that he could hook onto in order to deliver it up in his personal way. With ‘5 Fingers’, JLM took on the spy story: a real one. He cast (the always dependable) James Mason in the lead as Ulysses Diello (Nazi code name: Cicero; real name Elyesa Bazna) – an Albanian who was British by adoption and who, while serving as valet to the British ambassador in Turkey (in 1943-44), photographed top secret documents and sold them to the Nazis. This was a man sick of the world and everything and everyone in it – and who made it his goal to stash away a huge bundle and then disappear. It all makes for a rather gripping tale (which includes an unorthodox ‘love interest’ angle supplied by Danielle Darrieux) – esp. as things begin to close in on Diello and the film goes to tension-filled places not anticipated (although, with a spy story – in which no one can trust *anyone* – anything is to be expected). Mason is, of course, amazing. He’s always particularly effective when given a meaty role with non-stop forceful things to say: this is one of those roles. An added plus is Bernard Herrmann’s judicious score (in which you will hear hints of what was to come for ‘Psycho’).

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