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Five Fingers

At the Metropolitan

Five Fingers tells the extraordinary (and presumably true) story of a valet who succeeded in photographing numerous top-secret Allied documents (including plans for the Normandy invasion) at the British Embassy in Ankara during the summer of 1944 and then selling them at extravagant prices to the Germans. Written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and based on a book by L. C. Mayzisch called Operation Cicerco, the picture is frequently amusing and always exciting.

A great deal of its success can be attributed to the actual facts of the case. Operation Cicerco is a script-writer's dream, loaded with enough surprises and ironic twists (including the fact that the Germans refused to believe that the documents were genuine) to fill half-a-dozen run-of-the-mill espionage thrillers. In addition, Mankiewicz's screenplay contains some effective frills of its own: a love affair between the valet and a former employer, a beautiful Polish countess, some bright epigrammatic dialogue, and an array of skillfully drawn diplomatic officials. Particularly clever use is made of the contrasting personalities of the pompous, victimized, British Ambassador (superbly played by Walter Hampden) and the disdainful German Ambassador (equally well played by John Wengraf), who keeps insisting to his "juvenile delinquent" colleagues that the information they are purchasing is accurate.

James Mason plays the villain with just the right amount of quietness and self-assurance; if, at times, he seems a bit too suave and sophisticated, the fault lies with the script. Daniel Darrieux has comparatively few lines but her sly captivating smile suggests the essential shrewdness and unscrupulousness of the countess better than any script could.

My only complaints about Five Fingers are minor ones with regard to its title, the meaning of which struck me as obscure, and its final scene, which seemed unnecessarily cliched. Other than this it is a slick and highly successful piece of entertainment.

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