DEFA Film Library // 1963 // 96 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge P.S. Colbert // August 9th, 2013
quot;This film's plot is fictional. Similarities to actual events and real people are intended."
East beats West in For Eyes Only, a Cold War espionage adventure from Communist bloc Germany, clearly designed to checkmate that secret agent playboy of the western world, Bond. James Bond.
Double agent Hansen (Alfred Müller, The Rabbit Is Me) has infiltrated the Military Intelligence Division (MID), an American cabal dedicated to fomenting discontent that will lead to civil war in Berlin, and necessitate the intervention of American and NATO forces, which will then work to drive Russia out of Deutschland.
Hansen regularly commutes between East and West Berlin (through a sewer pipe), ostensibly for the purpose of getting American spies in and out of the Axis stronghold. Lately, however, an inordinate number of Americans are being caught by the Stasi, and the MID are growing suspicious of Hansen -- a former East German who officially renounced his citizenship in order to defect -- despite the repeated assurances of confidence made by his highly-placed commanding officer, Major Collins (Helmut Schreiber).
But as more and more Western agents fail to return from recon missions in the east, even Collins' trust is beginning to erode, spurring Hansen to work faster on his own recon work for the GDR; lest he be apprehended before giving the Communists enough information to head off the Americans at the pass.
This is all pretty standard stuff: conversations are either formal and clipped or glib and flippant, depending on who's involved. There are pocket-sized gadgets for the purpose of getting into locked rooms, as well as for taking photos and making secret tape recordings. There are knockout drops and modified karate moves, employed to dispatch troublemakers. There are speedy car rides involving much nervous glancing into rear view mirrors. There are unsmiling villains, raffish wolves, and coquettish women on the make; plenty of whiskey, cigarettes, and a snappy jazz score with rumbling bass guitar runs.
Actually, only two things seem out of the ordinary here: The "sexuality" of the characters is almost comically chaste in comparison to James Bond and his contemporaries of the era, and here, of course, the heroes and villains are reversed, with several insinuations made that the Americans have absorbed not only Gestapo tactics, but ex-Gestapo personnel for key positions, as well.
Though reportedly a huge hit in Eastern Germany upon its release (making Müller a superstar there in the process), For Eyes Only -- while certainly valuable as historical artifact -- probably won't cut the muster with most fans of the (western) spy genre, bereft as it is of any real action. Let's face it, James Bond movie fans aren't returning time and again for excessive yacking and modest ladies and gentlemen who respect curfews!
A word of caution: The American characters often speak English to each other, but once a conversation between them starts, their voices are drowned out by narrator Gerry Wolff, who translates aloud in German. In order for English-speaking audiences to stay with these conversations, English subtitles are provided, though it does take some getting used to, as you can hear the English dialog underneath if you strain to listen, and this can divert your attention -- be prepared to back up often or miss key plot points -- which, again, considering how little real action occurs, are often advanced through dialog.
The film is brought to us by the DEFA Film Library at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, reportedly the only archive outside of Europe devoted to the study and collection of East German films. Presented in its original black and white, For Eyes Only gets a fairly decent transfer, though the image often tends toward softness, and there is an occasional pan-and-scan effect as result of the fact that the original 2.35 aspect ratio has been modified to 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The 2.0 mono soundtrack is clear and vivid, if unspectacular.
Bonus features include three PDF files (two essays and a "teaching guide"), a limited selection of cast and crew bios and filmographies, and most importantly, a pair of vintage East German newsreels: "A U.S. Agent in the GDR," (1956), and "In the Heart of U.S. Military Espionage," (1975). Both short subjects concern former Stasi Agent Horst Hesse, allegedly the real-life role model for Hansen.
Hesse was hailed as an Eastern-bloc hero in 1956 for infiltrating Western Intelligence and smuggling information back to the GDR that exposed Allied attack plans, and led to the capture of 137 U.S. secret agents behind enemy lines. Following the destruction of the Berlin wall in 1989, and the subsequent acquisition of GDR and Stasi documents, Hesse discovered that he had actually taken part in a false flag operation. Apparently, there were no real Western attack plans, and the agent had been used by the Stasi as a patsy, in order to drum up popular GDR support at home.
Or at least, that's what they want us to think...
Due to the sensitive issues involved, this matter has been transferred to an
off-site tribunal, held in an undisclosed location. No further information is
available at this time.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: DEFA Film Library
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (German)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1963
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* PDF Content