36 Hours (1964)
The opening credits tell me this is based on Roald Dahl, which is unexpected, but then I always acquaint Dahl with children’s books. Anyway we’re in 1940s wartime Britain. Jeff Pike, Major Jefferson Pike (James Garner), is about to get embroiled in a spot of espionage. Headed to Lisbon to see a man about a strategy whilst a network of little old ladies track his moves and sneak around in the shadows. It’s familiar, but has that dash of the unexpected. There’s some lovely camera tricks and equally lovely locations. Things come unstuck for poor Major Pike pretty quickly and before long he’s drugged up and transported to see Walt Gerber, another Major this one played by Rod Taylor. He and Anna Hedler (Eva Marie Saint) are up to something though. An elaborate staging of a US Army Hospital. Pike ain’t in the US no more y’see, he’s in enemy territory... with the enemy. Gerber has 36 hours to trick Pike into telling him all he knows before the SS take over and we know what that means. I love this sort of thing. Pike thinks he’s lost 6 years, that the war is won, that he’s safe in Germany. Safe with Gerber and Anna. Both Taylor and Marie-Saint are fantastic, brimming with Hollywood stardust. As is Garner. The whole facade is so good, I’m completely fooled myself, forgetting all about the war until Pike lets some detail of the Normandy landings slip and the dramatic score kicks in. It’s delightfully twisty, deftly marrying a harsh war with romance, mind games and even some light comedy. The pressure the SS put on Gerber is almost as intense as what Gerber puts on Pike and it’s clear this power struggle poses problems. As with all stories of this nature, it’s the details that matter. Those insignificant moments that turn entire scenes on their head. 36 Hours is full of them and each one is brilliant. The way it weaves is artfully simplistic. Made today, I fear the light touches would be buried, but not here. It’s packed with charm, wit and a truly wonderful cast. Dahl wrote some fantastic stuff didn’t he.