Fox // 1952 // 107 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // March 30th, 2014
Guilty of every sin that had a name.
In 1950, Ludwig Moyzich published his memoirs in a book called Who Was Cicero?, which detailed one of the most amazing cases of espionage and counterintelligence to come out of World War II. He was privy to the dealings of one Elyesa Bazna, an Albanian valet to the British consulate in Ankara, Turkey, who stole an amazing number of Allied secrets and sold them to the Germans. Moyzich was his liaison, taking the rolls of film in exchange for vast sums of money. Some of these secrets could have been instrumental in the Nazis winning the war, and that ridiculous act of inaction was filmed a year after the book came out by Joseph Mankiewicz (All About Eve) as 5 Fingers and, though it's movied up quite a bit, it finely relates this absurd true story.
Ulysses Diello (James Mason, Lolita), a butler at the British embassy in Turkey, has secrets or, better put, he steals them. His intention is to sell these secrets to the Germans, not for any political camaraderie, but strictly for money because he can. The Germans are skeptical, but intrigued, and finally agree to his terms: twenty thousand British Pounds in exchange for one roll of film and the promise of more to come, for more payoffs, of course. While the documents are legit, detailing strategy conferences between Allied leaders, they suspect he's a British counteragent, but keep buying them. Soon, Ulysses meets up with Countess Anna Staviska (Danielle Darrieux, 8 Women), a former aristocrat whose assets were stolen by the Nazis. They go into league with each other, she hosts the exchange and keeps the money while he acts the part and takes his pictures. But spies can't have friends and, as the stakes get higher, Ulysses quickly realizes that his trust was misplaced.
It's almost impossible to believe that what goes down in 5 Fingers actually happened but, in large part, it's accurate as far as I understand the story. It's very real that, had the Germans acted on the information they'd been given, there was a genuine chance they'd have won the war. Thank goodness their suspicions got the better of them because, instead of fealty to our Nazi overlords, we're simply left with this fantastic story, brilliantly brought to the screen by Mankiewicz, one of the best and most consistent directors of his era.
The heart of the movie, though, lies in the brilliant performance by James Mason. He plays these dual lives perfectly, completely proper and subservient while playing the valet, then making the hard transition to the wheeling and dealing player when necessary. He's hilarious and perfectly believable on either hand, keeping it totally grounded at all times.
The exteriors were shot in Turkey itself, giving the movie some great color, especially during the climactic sequence. The gorgeous landscape and bustle of Istanbul were nicely shot by Norbert Brodine (Kiss of Death), giving us the flavor of the culture while keeping the sequence exciting. These scenes, and the finale, had me cracking up with delight, even if it's the least realistic thing about the film. It's far more a John LeCarre feel than an Ian Fleming one, but that almost makes it better. Gunshots and nutty gadgets are fun, but this kind of cloak-and-dagger chase business is much more my speed. Suspenseful, well-written, and very funny at times, 5 Fingers is my kind of spy movie and anyone hunting for a thriller they haven't seen can do a whole lot worse than this number.
5 Fingers comes to DVD from Fox as part of their Cinema Archives on-demand collection. The results are fair given that they haven't done any restoration on it, with a relatively clean looking full frame image. The black and white contrast is accurate and there's a decent level of detail throughout, but there are quite a few isolated blemishes that are distracting. Nothing too bad, though. The sound is clear enough, with minimal hiss, no pops, and easily discernible dialog. The only extra is a trailer, but that's more than these things normally get.
Few things can beat a good spy story, and 5 Fingers is one of cinema's best. Considering the location footage, sharp writing, and strong performances, let alone the wild true story it comes from, this is a movie that I have a hard time believing has been so lost to history, but no matter now. It's available now and anyone who enjoys plots about espionage and double-dealing. Highly recommended.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 1952
MPAA Rating: Not Rated