One of the biggest secrets of 1944 was the creation of a planned full assault invasion of German occupied Western Europe. An operation that would include hundreds of thousands of troops. To strike a hammer blow against the axis of evil that was Adolf Hitler and his Nazi forces. The 5th of June was put a side for D-Day the top secret Normandy landings and the beginning of the invasion. This enormously important mission would go under the code-name Operation Overlord. Five coastal strike points had been calculated to achieve such a gargantuan undertaking. America was assigned to land at sectors code-named Utah and Omaha, the British at Sword and Gold, and the Canadians at Juno. A task so immense that it needed the utmost secrecy to accomplish. A map was designed for the planning room to coordinate the operations. This map and the mission’s secrecy were of the highest top level importance.
Tagline – The Wildest Spy Adventure A Man Ever Lived!
With so much at stake it was beyond imperative that the plans be kept at highest grade top secret protection. On the 31st of May the leaders of the war strike knew only to well that spies were rife through-out. It would only be a matter of time before high ranking officials would be under attack. A plan was devised knowing that their objective would be cracked. With less than a week to go for the set invasion date, General Allison (Russell Thorson) and Colonel Peter Maclean (Alan Napier) brought together their plan….. One man, Major Jefferson Pike!!
They knew Major Jefferson Pike (James Garner) had a good connection in Lisbon. They knew a genuine spy would no doubt sell the arrival of the Major’s special trip to Lisbon. Leading to a chance for the German’s to snatch him up. To interrogate their prisoner for the details of the invasion plan. A plan that Major Pike had now seen. However the General and the Colonel knew full well that the Major Pike was tough. Unbreakable! If he could last out a few days under intense interrogation it would keep the German’s busy. To keep them guessing as the Allies drew close to implementing their grand invasion.
Colonel Peter Maclean – “I bet my bottom dollar you’d keep quiet Jeff!” Major Jefferson Pike – “Ha thanks Mac. Don’t bet too much on it! I’ve never had my ear used as an ashtray!“
On the 1st of June Major Pike arrives in Lisbon ready to tell the informant that the Allies plan to land at the French port of Calais. Hoping that it would attract German reinforcements to fortify the area leaving Normandy less guarded. This was the moment when the Major was drugged, abducted and transported to Germany.
He awakes within a U.S. Army hospital. Something feels odd. His eyes are slightly out of focus. He finds he needs glasses. Looking in the mirror he’s shocked to see his hair has started to turn grey. That’s bizarre! He looked older! This is when Psychiatrist Major Walter Gerber (Rod Taylor) and Nurse Anna Hedler (Eva Marie Saint) enter the room. He says he’s an old friend. Major Pike doesn’t remember him. Visibly shaken he’s informed that he’s in post-war occupied Germany. The war had been won by the Allies. The date is May 1950! After being tortured in Lisbon he’d lost 6 years of his memory. The bastards! Fragments would return but for now he was being cared for with therapy sessions. Helping to ease him back to his former self. The psychiatrist informs him that anything he can recall from the day of his abduction would vastly help speed up his recovery. Could he recall any critical details of the invasion plans? Of course now the Normandy Landings were not a secret 6 years on!!
Tagline – “Give Me Any American for 36 Hours And I’ll Give You Back a Traitor!“
36 Hours plays out like an episode from Patrick McGoohan’s secret agent abduction series The Prisoner. What kind of evil mind tricks and torture will they go with? Psychiatrist Gerber has perfected the ultimate way to extract information using his scientific tried and tested mind tricks rather than brute force. He prides himself with his almost humane practices. He always gets results. He’s confident he will get the information needed. Just give him time, 36 hours, let him work his magic. SS Agent Otto Schack (Werner Peters) is close by, waiting. If results aren’t achieved soon he is ordered to conduct his own, dare I say, more traditional ways of recovering information.
From uniforms featuring United Allied Forces badges to the hospital camp filled with American soldiers. Men play baseball in the garden grounds. A gardener rakes up leaves. Fake newspapers with headlines from back home announce political stories. Letters and radio broadcasts are detailed to help convince with this carefully laid out plan. How is Major Pike going to manage to keep it together? Will he be able to see through the deception and ultimately keep the precious sensitive secrets safe? A secret that has 100’s of thousands of lives connected to it.
What’s brilliant about 36 Hours is the way it all plays out. It’s beautifully written. Of course reading about it you know it’s a made up story, an unbelievable turn of events that shouldn’t really work in this world war two drama. However it’s also extremely well acted out. There’s lots of twists and turns. It’s also doesn’t all go to plan like you think it would. If you know the actually date of the D-Day landing you might guess it but still it’s doesn’t lose the power within the story. It’s more than the sum of it’s parts. There’s a few other powerful deep moments and I’ll leave you with this line.
Major Pike – “Can’t you cry?” Nurse Anna – “I’ve used up all my tears!“
A few random things
- 36 Hours is directed by George Seaton who was also a great screenwriter. His big seasonal film is the Maureen O’Hara and John Payne Christmas film Miracle On 34th Street (1947).
- The film is said to be based on a Roald Dahl short story that was published in Harper’s Magazine and called “Beware Of The Dog“. On further reading it might transpire that it could of been a case of accidental plagiarism. The inclusion of the based on Roald Dahl story credit sounds like, from reading, that it may of been more to cover themselves. As the 36 Hours story is credited to both writers Carl K. Hittleman and Luis H. Vance with the screenwriting duties going to the director George Seaton.
- Episode 3 from the first season of the 60s series Mission Impossible is called Operation Rogosh and is inspired by 36 Hours. I watch it last night. It’s really good. It’s on Vimeo here at time of writing.
- Also two episodes of Star Trek used the 36 Hours baseline story for Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 4 Episode 8 Future Imperfect and Star Trek: Enterprise Season 3 Episode 14 Stratagem.
- I got to see the original D-Day Landing planning Map five years ago. With a guided tour at Southwick House in Portsmouth. There’s a brilliant little story that goes with it. Well maybe not for the carpenter at the time. For the wooden map was made like a jigsaw puzzle in separate pieces by a toy manufacturer. A carpenter was assigned to reassemble all the parts on the wall. On completion he was instantly then detained at the house. Loose lips sink ships and that top secret map was not going to be the tale at the local pub over a few beers. You can read more here on an inews article.
Wrapping it up
I thought 36 Hours to be a brilliant film. A well written piece of fiction mixed with facts. It’s cleverly told and where it should sound fantastical and way out there in fact it’s story is told extremely well. Helped immensely by the three main superbly acted cast members, James Garner, Eva Marie Saint and Rod Taylor. It could of easily gone for a quirky tale and really gone off the rails. It’s great to say it keeps it’s feet firmly on the ground and delivers a very thoughtful drama. Well worth your time if you fancy a war story with a different take.
Have you seen this one? Feel free to let me know your thoughts, good or bad, it doesn’t matter to me.
Thanks for having a read
PS here’s a great little promo poster art work.