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5 Fingers
USA 1952
Directed by Joseph L Mankiewicz
Running time 108 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


5 Fingers is a stylish old-fashioned spy thriller with one of James Mason’s most memorable roles as Diello, a long-serving valet and would-be gentleman who sells British secrets to the Germans in order to fuel his dreams of aristocratic languour.

Based on a memoir, Operation Cicero, by L.C. Moyzisch, it tells of the latter’s involvement with Diello, an Albanian-born naturalized British citizen who was valet to the English ambassador in neutral Turkey during WWII. A sub-plot deals with his relationship with Polish Countess Anna Staviska's (Danielle Darrieux) for whose husband Diello was once valet. The husband has died, the Germans have confiscated her estate and in her straitened circumstances she pragmatically throws her lot in with her former servant.

Whilst today this kind of film would have tens of millions spent on lavish location photography and outrageous stunts and SFX, Mankiewicz plays it more in the manner of his Oscar-winning hit from two years earlier, All About Eve, focusing on tangled web of human deception and self-deception (Mankiewicz was nominated for a Best Director Oscar but did not win).

Mason is diabolically smooth and oozes supercilious charm whilst at the same time capturing something pathetically naïve in his character. Thanks to the script by Michael Wilson (also Oscar-nominated) the film is as much interested in portraying the prejudicial class and national attitudes that both allowed Diello to commit his crimes with relative ease and ensure that they came to nothing, something which gives the film a slightly farcical quality, but in an intentionally sophisticated way.

For a supposedly true story, one thing that does let the film down is the remarkable ineptness of the British, headed by special agent Travers (Michael Rennie), who makes P.C. Dixon look like a super-hero when it comes to getting his man. And surely, once the British knew the Diello had the plans they would have been worthless to the Germans, thus making the chase to Istanbul pointless? However if asthriller this is not likely to excite as a character study it is a treat.

 

 

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