A miscast Dana Andrews might have been doing penance for his Commie-cheerleading WWII propaganda turn in THE NORTH STAR/’43 with this fact-inspired espionage drama ripped from Canadian headlines. Fresh out of Russia, with a plum assignment in Ottawa as a decoding cypher clerk at the Soviet Embassy, Andrews’ True-Believer status is doubly tested: at work where stolen atomic secrets are being traded; and at home where his wife & child are thriving under Western democracy. What does it say about your way of life when being sent home is a punishment? Andrews misses the sense of isolation & otherness needed to goose up the unsurprising story, not even an accent to set him apart. And Gene Tierney, as his wife, isn’t allowed to go out and experience a different way of life. Why not show her going overboard in a consumer society? Instead, he’s buried under the usual grim Soviet comrades; and her conversion needs but a three-room flat & friendly neighbor. Made in the familiar style of one of those Louis De Rochemont docu-dramas popular at the time (Andrews had just made one, BOOMERANG/’47), this comes off as a missed opportunity. Director William Wellman does ratchet up a decent level of suspense in the final story arc when no one will take a look at Andrews’ spy revelations. But the most interesting thing in here, June Havoc’s sexually assertive embassy drudge who knows how to be loyal and play the system for ‘the good life,’ largely disappears after the first couple of reels.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: No doubt, it sounded like a good idea to underscore the film with top USSR classical composers (Prokofiev, Khachaturyan, heaps of Shostakovich 5th), but the music is so much stronger than what’s on screen it draws attention away from the drama.
DOUBLE-BILL: Joseph L. Mankiewicz shows just the sort of imagination missing here in his underseen fact-based WWII embassy espionage drama 5 FINGERS/’52; wonderful perfs from James Mason, Danielle Darrieux & Michael Rennie.