36 Hours (1964)
Rod Taylor plays Maj. Walter Gerber, a German psychiatrist pressed into
service by the Nazis as an intelligence agent.
This movie has well-drawn characters played by top-notch performers.
It has an unusual premise, a good deal of suspense and a touch of humor.
Perhaps the biggest mystery is why this movie isn't more well-known.
In the days just before D-Day, American Maj. Jefferson Pike (James Garner)
is sent to Lisbon to confirm that the Nazis erroneously think the Allied
assault will be at Calais rather than Normandy.
But Pike is captured by the Nazis, who use a novel method of espionage
to get him to disclose the true location of the invasion: They try to convince
Pike that the war has been over for six years and there is no reason to
keep the Allied assault a secret.
This plan is the brainchild of "Walt" Gerber, an earnest, intelligent,
likeable man. Originally, the doctor used this brainwashing device to treat
young, shellshocked soldiers -- convincing them that years had passed, the
war was over and they were safe. He was interested only in healing and helping.
But the Nazis found a way to twist his expertise to suit their needs.
The prize subject is Pike, who after his capture awakens in a hospital,
supposedly suffering from severe amnesia. His is startled to see that he
has aged -- he needs glasses and has gray hair. The newspaper says it's
1950. And Pike eventually is told that his nurse, Anna (Eva Marie Saint),
is his wife.
All of this, however, is a carefully crafted fiction. And Gerber -- who
appears to be an American doctor -- has 36 hours to get Pike to reveal the
site of the D-Day invasion -- or else the SS will turn to more violent methods.
Taylor is brilliant in his role, creating a warm and engaging character
-- not an easy task considering Gerber is a German officer during World
War II. That's generally not a sympathetic character type, but Gerber is
different: He's a good soldier, a good doctor, but not a good Nazi.
In fact, Taylor once commented:
I loved the role of Walter Gerber because it was almost
two roles in one: charming American doctor on one hand, and the Nazi-hating
young German on the other.
-- Rod-Lore fan club newsletter, October
Praise was heaped upon Rod in a review of the Blu-Ray release of
the movie. The review noted how the memory loss premise of the movie
Further disorienting viewers nearly as much
is that fact that Rod Taylor was an Australian playing a German
impersonating an American. In a few scenes he speaks German to
his superiors, and toward the end he switches from his U.S. Army
doctor's uniform to a German Luftwaffe one, but at all times
he's very convincing.
The movie's plot, and Taylor's character particularly are wildly
improbable almost to the point of being absurd but Taylor, who
stands out in the film, even above Garner, sells it
magnificently. His screen persona, tough and masculine but
gentle and reassuring almost to the point of sweetness, made him
as perfect for 36 Hours as his signature roles in The Time
Machine and Hitchcock's The Birds.
"Good German" characters are
almost impossible to play, but Taylor succeeds in winning the
audience's sympathy, even though he's working harder than anyone
else trying to extract top secret info for Nazis.