36 Hours (1964)

36 Hours (1964)

“When things are going along too smoothly, you can’t help but be a bit suspicious.”

In May of 1944, an American military intelligence officer (James Garner) is poisoned, kidnapped, and brought to a secret German site designed to look like a U.S. hospital, where an army doctor (Rod Taylor), a concentration camp survivor (Eva Marie Saint), and a German officer (Werner Peters) attempt to convince him that he has amnesia and the war is over, in order to get him to share plans for D-Day.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Amnesia
  • Eva Marie Saint Films
  • James Garner Films
  • Rod Taylor Films
  • World War II

This clever suspense thriller — based on a short story by Roald Dahl — features a premise so intriguing it’s hard not to be drawn in nearly right away: what kind of powerful intelligence might one obtain upon successfully convincing an enemy that years have passed and the war is now over? In this film, we’re told that getting to that stage with Garner’s character has taken months of careful planning by dozens of players who can’t risk making a single mistake (i.e., accidentally speaking German).

And the ruse works — at first:

… until suddenly Garner suspects something’s up, and the house of cards comes tumbling down. The tension from there lies in how Garner will handle this news, how his capturers will receive what he’s forced to tell him (is he lying?), and whether the other sympathetic players in the narrative (Taylor and Saint) will turn out to be allies or enemies.

The final half-hour turns into an escape plot that drags the storyline out unnecessarily, but this flick remains worth a look simply for its thought-provoking premise.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • James Garner as Jeff Pike
  • Rod Taylor as Major Gerber
  • Philip Lathrop’s cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a one-time look. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book.


One thought on “36 Hours (1964)

  1. Rewatch (5/13/22). A once-must, as an all-around good show.

    I’ve always had a fondness for this film. Clever idea; well-written and directed and nicely played by its able cast. Tension and suspense build in a satisfying way. I wouldn’t agree that the film drags as it draws to its conclusion.

    It’s a particularly unique entry in the canon of WWII films.

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