Twentieth Century Fox's new "Cinema Archives" collection is a welcome companion to the manufactured-on-demand offerings from Sony and Warner Brothers, and promises to allow cinephiles access to many unreleased titles from the Fox vault. As with other MOD programs, each Cinema Archives title comes on a DVD-R and is pulled from the best available source. The first wave of titles includes They Came to Blow Up America, a 1943 war thriller starring George Sanders as a U.S. double agent in deep with the Nazis. Long-unreleased on any home video format, the film is an entertaining pro-U.S. thriller with ample humor and a pleasantly twisty plot.
Mining engineer Carl Steelman (Sanders) tells his adoring parents that he is part of a German-American Bund and intends to support Nazi Germany, which sends his dad into a sickly frenzy. In fact, Steelman is working for the U.S. government to infiltrate the Nazi ranks, and manages to score a key U-boat mission against U.S. targets at home. Steelman also springs German dissenter Helga Lorenz (Poldi Dur) from a Nazi jail before his cover as German Ernst Reiter is blown by the real Reiter's wife, Frau Reiter (Anna Sten). All the while, Steelman is pursued by suspicious Gestapo officers.
They Came to Blow Up America is an unapologetically pro-U.S. picture, and a scrawl before the film informs the audience that the film is meant to alert them to the dangers they face from abroad. Director Edward Ludwig crafts a tricky thriller that is both suspenseful and funny. Much of the film's success is owed to Sanders, who is a superbly suave double agent. His character attends a sabotage school, where he learns to target Americans via actual Nazi propaganda and war footage. The German enemy is both a threat and a target for ridicule, and Steelman runs circles around his clueless German superiors.
The film's best trick involves Frau Reiter, who winds up in the Nazi clink after failing to convince the German command that Steelman has assumed her husband's identity. They Came to Blow Up America at first laughs at her frustration before dealing with her in an unexpectedly decisive manner. For a war picture with serious consequences, They Came to Blow Up America is certainly good-natured, and allows Sanders to charm his audience. A welcome addition to Fox's Cinema Archives MOD program, They Came to Blow Up America is worth seeking out.
PICTURE AND SOUND:
The film is presented in a flat 1.37:1 full-screen aspect ratio, and looks good for the most part. There are some serious scratches and print defects during the opening scenes, but things steadily improve from there. The image is mostly clear and clean, and is certainly acceptable for an archive title. The two-channel soundtrack is also good, with clear dialogue and effects.
They Came to Blow Up America is an entertaining wartime thriller with plenty of twists and a surprising amount of humor. George Sanders charms as a U.S. double agent working to infiltrate the Nazis, and the film sees him waltz around a host of incompetent German officials. The disc, available through Fox's Cinema Archives MOD collection, features solid picture and sound. Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.