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on 21 July 2008
This is the "true" (in essence) story of how the valet of the British Ambassador to Turkey, based in Ankara, managed to steal British WW2 secrets in 1944 and sell them to German Intelligence. As with all "true" stories, not everything is as it really was, particularly the location of the ending, but in essence this is an accurate summation of the events that occurred, based on the postwar book, Five Fingers, by the German attache Moyszich, Cicero's usual and initial handler. What I particularly liked about it (apart from the generally excellent performances, the best being that of James Mason as the suavely villainous valet) was the fact that all the exterior shots were filmed on location in Ankara, Istanbul and elsewhere and only a decade after the events themselves took place. One doubt in my mind: according to Moyszich's book, the existence of Cicero was reduced to code and sent to Berlin by "wireless". Bearing in mind that we now (since revealed in the 1970's) that the British were reading most German communications thanks to operation "Ultra" by which the Enigma coding machines had been at least partially broken, did the British deliberately feed Cicero true but purposeful facts to destory the morale of the German High Command? Perhaps so. Recommended.
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This was a blind buy and I was slightly doubtful about it. But it was from the director of "All about Eve", one of my favourite directors and one of my favourite films. I needed not worry: "5 Fingers" is a great spy thriller that caught me from beginning to end. It's 1944 and the valet of the British Ambassador in Turkey starts selling top secret documents to the Germans. James Mason as the suave anti-hero of this film gives one of his best performances. You truly want him to get away with it, simply because of his charm, wit and intelligence. As for the UK DVD it has no extras which is rather annoying - especially since the French release has quite a few.
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Picture the results of the Normandy invasion if the Germans had known in advance that the Second Front would take place there in early June. It turns out they did know...and they didn't believe the information was true. Note that elements of the plot are discussed.

Ulysses Diallo (James Mason) is the valet to the British ambassador to neutral Turkey in 1944. He has perfect manners. He is invaluable to the ambassador. He is trusted. Diallo was born in Albania but came to England at an early age. Determined to become an English gentlemen, he decided that the best way to learn was to become an English gentleman's gentleman. "I may not be a gentleman yet," he tells Countess Anna Staviska (Danielle Darrieux) one evening after she slaps his face, "but I am the best gentleman's gentleman." The Countess has lost her husband and her wealth in the war, and now is an increasingly poor but highly attractive woman who is willing to serve the Germans or the English for money. In Ankara, full of intrigue and agents, there are always opportunities. Diallo had also, at one time, been gentleman's gentleman to her husband.

Diallo decides he can make very large sums of money by photographing secret documents the Ambassador keeps in the embassy safe, to which Diallo has access, and giving them to the Germans. He will insist on being paid in English pounds sterling. He estimates over a period of a few weeks he'll have enough funds to live the life of a gentleman in Rio de Janeiro. He recruits the countess to help him, to be his banker, in exchange for funds he will pay her. And as the days go by, their arrangement extends to her bed. The German's pay, but they aren't sure of the man they have code named Cicero. The information appears to be too good to be true. They suspect a British trick.

The British now begin to suspect there is a leak in the embassy. They send a man from London to find out. Things get dicey, but Diallo makes one last theft and is almost caught by the British. After turning over the photographs and getting his money, he also barely escapes from German agents who now want him, too. What was his last batch of documents he photographed and turned over to the Germans? Specific information on Normandy. The information was so big and came from a source so unlikely -- a valet -- that the Germans didn't believe it and took no action. This is a true story.

As for Diallo, well, he didn't care whether the Germans believed him or not, as long as they paid. He didn't even care what the documents contained as long as they were stamped Top Secret. But at the end of the movie, dining in his dinner jacket on the terrace of his sumptuous Rio villa, served by a discrete gentleman's gentleman of his own, he is visited by his banker and a senior Brazilian police officer. Diallo had already learned that it wasn't wise to trust the Countess. Now he is about to he learn he shouldn't have trusted the Germans.

Espionage may be the name of the game here, but the movie is really a black comedy of exquisite manners. No one could read a line of dialogue with the mixture of cool contempt and self amusement the way James Mason could. He is utterly self possessed. Even when he is taken off guard, as the Countess manages to do, he recovers quickly with a shrug. Mason's Diallo is a complete mercenary, so amused by life that he becomes a captivating villain. Danielle Darrieux almost matches him in the Countess' determination to reach her former social position. They make a fine, selfish, wary couple.

Joseph Mankiewicz directed the movie. The screenplay is credited to Michael Wilson, although IMDb lists Mankiewicz as an uncredited screenwriter. The dialogue is full of Mankiewicz-style amused cynicism. The movie is available in VHS as well as this Region 2 DVD. The DVD looks just fine. There are no extras. The time is long overdue for this movie to appear in a Region 1 DVD.
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on 20 January 2013
Based on a true story. In 1944 neutral Turkey, the valet (James Mason) to the British ambassador (Walter Hampden) is selling secret documents to the Germans for large sums of money. But the Germans are suspicious about the accuracy of the documents, suspecting he might be a British plant. Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz from a screenplay by Michael Wilson (based on the book OPERATION CICERO), this is a well crafted spy thriller. The film eschews action pieces and heroics instead concentrating on the meticulous day to day existence of an ordinary man taking extraordinary steps. Still, one wishes Mankiewicz could have tossed in at least one thrill or two. Mason gives an impeccable performance. The insistent score is by Bernard Herrmann. With Danielle Darrieux as an impoverished Polish countess who uses Mason to her own end, Michael Rennie, Michael Pate, Konstantin Shayne and Herbert Berghof.

The Optimum DVD is a nice B&W transfer in the appropriate 1.33 ratio.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 15 March 2014
Based on real events this effort from Joseph Mankiewicz is a lesson in tautness without histrionics. It is something of an intriguing watch knowing that the lead character really was selling top secret information to the Germans. Yet they (thankfully), never acted on any of the info that they bought. The film has a wonderful paced structure and is splendidly shot, while the direction somehow manages to give added feeling to the dastardly deeds unfolding on the screen. The trump card comes by way of James Mason as the cold hearted money mad Cicero. Slickly managing to blend charm and sophistication into a character that we know is as low as a snakes belly. A special performance from a very special actor. A great spy story, with plenty of suspense, and a dandy of an ending to round it all off. 8/10
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on 26 June 2009
This is a great classic film a must have for any James Mason fan. Based on a true story which could have changed the course of the war and very nearly did ! The quality of the transfer if first rate by optimum classic

Directed by Josepth Mankiewicz ( need I say more )
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on 27 January 2013
I saw this film when it first came out. I remembered that I had enjoyed it so decided to see how the years had treated it.

Very well I have to say. It is a true story and tells of a butler at a British Embassy, who photographs secret papers from the safe and sells them to the Germans. He does it for personal gain, as he wants to go and live in luxury in South America. He is very successful and survives some scary moments, as when he is raiding the safe.

It has some tense moments and some humerous times too. Recommended.
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on 24 January 2014
This must have seemed a sensational, outrageous film back in 1952. Only seven years after the war, here was a big American movie where the central character is a spy, not for our side, but for the Nazis, one who, furthermore, obtains full plans for D-Day and sells them to his German paymasters. It was a true story, too, and there must have been a few red faces in London. But director Joseph L. Mankiewicz (who also is clearly the author of the extremely witty, rather erudite dialogue, for all that Michael Wilson gets sole script credit) doesn't indulge in the usual Hollywood Brit-bashing; the Albanian-born Diello (James Mason) has only contempt for his Third Reich employers and openly tells them they'll lose the war, whilst the British ambassador he deceives (he's his valet) is shown as a noble old boy whose sense of honour and fair play belongs in a better time. And although Mason is at his most charismatic as Diello, we never exactly like him, we just appreciate that he's smart, daring and funny and a man who's been kept under all his life by an absurd and cruel class-system. Thus, when the film finally unleashes its dynamite double-twist ending on us, it's immensely satisfying; and if Diello is defeated, he's also man enough to see the joke, and his unstoppable laughter when he realises that all his so-careful plans have come to naught might just save his soul. The true story has been elaborately cleaned up and fictionalised - the real "Diello" was a very shabby and sleazy individual named Bazna, and what caused British authorities the most embarrassment was that he would seem to have been the real-life ambassador's lover as well as his manservant, which might explain how he got away with things for so long. The beautiful Countess played by Danielle Darrieux had no counterpart in reality. The film is not wholly without sentimentality about the aristocratic class, and it relentlessly pillories the character of Diello's German embassy contact, Moyzisch (the very funny Oskar Karlweis). Moyzisch is entirely depicted as a buffoon, even though the film-makers wouldn't have had a story without the real man's controversial book about the case. The depiction of war as a madness in which a clever man with no scruples can go from poverty to wealth quickly as long as he never allows himself the sentimentality of idealism is still pretty eyebrow-raising.
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on 15 April 2014
As a story it was interesting (although at the end of the film it would be un probable for the bank to find out that the money was fake). The direction was good and so was the photography and the lighting.
This edition of Optimum Releasing made the DVD Player sometimes to pause (and consequently to freeze the image) and then I had to press the play button to resume the film. But this wasn' t a serious problem.
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on 6 May 2016
This film, starring James Mason, based on a true story, successfully blends suspense and tension with humour and a few delightful moments of revenge at the end. Excellent filming, much on location in Ankara. Skilfully directed by Joseph Mankiewicz and superbly filmed in black and white.
I first saw it in a cinema in 1953 and had never forgotten it so, after a long, long interval, treated myself to the DVD in the hope that time would not have diminished by enjoyment after more than sixty years! I need not have worried - it rekindled all my enjoyment and it won't be sixty years before I watch it again.
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