Top positive review
Nicely Plotted WW2 Espionage Drama
on 1 March 2016
Named after the Le Havre location where those dastardly Gestapo men try to extricate secrets from Allied collaborators, Henry Hathaway’s 1947 film (eventually) finds James Cagney’s 'unconvincing Frenchman’ and US secret service man, Bob Sharkey, holed up (and trying to hold out) in the midst of all that his adversaries can throw at him. Following a relatively pedestrian (if historically interesting) opening, in which we get (patriotic voiceover included) forensic, documentary-like, detail on 'undercover secret service training’, Hathaway’s film ultimately provides a good deal of tense drama, intricate plotting and nice reveals, as 'Sharkey’s men’ find themselves behind enemy lines (in Holland, then France) looking to sabotage a V2 rocket factory, whilst attempting to conceal the planned date of the Second Front (Allied invasion of Europe).
As Sharkey’s '077’ men (and women) learn of their proposed 'mission impossible’-like excursion into enemy territory, we learn that there is an undercover German agent among them, creating tensions between Richard Conte’s smooth-talking Bill O’Connell and Frank Latimore’s fellow agent Jeff Lassiter. Double-cross follows double-cross as Sharkey finds himself an integral part of the mission, feigning an id as part of the (collaborationist) Vichy government and eventually being (inadvertently) accosted by the French resistance. Hathaway’s film has some great moments of mistaken identity and deception, as true identities can only be verified via the exchange (between France and London) of coded messages over the radio. Acting-wise, Cagney (otherwise a great actor) does a solid job with an admittedly uninspiring script, whilst Conte impresses as the nefarious O’Connell and Sam Jaffe is good as the duplicitous French Mayor Galimard. Karl Malden also turns up in an early brief cameo role as an aircraft 'jump-master’.
It’s a film that provides some intriguing detail around war-time espionage and is worth sticking with through to what is quite a powerful, and rather surprising, denouement.