Very much a product of its time, Fritz Lang's Cloak And Dagger begins with an opening scene in which a small group of European resistance fighters are shoot down in cold blood by Nazi's. From there, the action shifts to an American university where we're introduced to a physicist named Alvah Jesper (Gary Cooper). Here he meets up with an old friend of his who now works for The Office Of Strategic Services. They're intercepting Nazi transmissions from Europe but can't crack the code they're being transmitted in on their own - they're hoping that he'll be able to help them, because they know that the Germans have come very close to perfecting their atomic weapons experiments.
Jesper is understandably apprehensive at first, but given that his friend already knows he's been secretly working for the government on The Manhattan Project as it is, he figures he really doesn't have too much of a choice. In order to figure out just what exactly the Germans have been up to, the OSS wants Jesper, who is fluent in German, to work for them as a spy and head to Europe to obtain firsthand knowledge of their operations. To help him upon his arrival, they put Alvah in touch with Katerin Lodor (Helen Thimig), a former German scientist now living outside of the fatherland in exile, a victim of blackmail. Soon enough, things get spooky - Lodor gets kidnapped and the Germans figure out who Alvah is and who he's working for. In order to save Lodor and accomplish his mission, he opts to work with some Italians who oppose the Nazi regime, primarily the beautiful Gina (Lilli Palmer), who can connect him with an Italian physicist named Polda (Vladimir Sokoloff), whose life may be in danger. Polda agrees to help, but only if Alvah and his American connection, Pinkie (Robert Alda), will free his daughter from the Nazis so that she can go with him - but of course, not everyone can be trustedâ€¦
This one takes a little while to get going. The early part of the movie is stagey, sometimes a little too talky for its own good, and a bit clichÃ© ridden. Gary Cooper has been accused by some in the past of being miscast here, and there are definitely spots where his performance is every bit as wooden as his critics would have you believe. He looks the part, he's got the screen presence and he is a name star, the kind that could look good atop a marquee, but a little more emotion from his part would have gone a long way towards making his work here stand out. As it stands, however, Cooper is decent; not great, not horrible, but decent or at least sufficient in the lead. The supporting cast is more interesting. Helen Thimig is reasonably sympathetic in her role, while Roberta Alda is good as the tough, no-nonsense contact working for Alvah upon his arrival oversea. The best part of the cast, however, is the gorgeous Lili Palmer, appearing here in her feature film debut. Her dialogue might not be the most original, in fact you can almost predict what she's going to say in certain situations before she even says it, but she delivers her lines with some quirky charm and makes a fairly cardboard character memorable.
A film obviously made with some of Lang's political leanings in mind, it's hard not to see this one as an extension of his views. Given that he left Germany during to avoid the rise of the Nazi party it makes sense that the film would use Nazis as villains here (it makes perfect sense even without Lang's personal background thrown into the mix). Made as a sort of tribute to the OSS, it's a fairly pro-American/patriotic movie, and it takes on a fairly strong stance against the advance and proliferation of nuclear weapons. This makes the film interesting as a product of the political environment in which it was made and we can probably assume it reflects a lot of the issues that may have been on the minds of Americans in 1946. The film does suffer from some obvious continuity issues, some of which can be explained away by the fact that the ending was changed and some cuts were imposed on the picture. Even with those issues, and the slow pacing of the first half of the picture, this is worth seeing, particularly for Lang fans. We get some nice suspense, a good score, some interesting characters and a few decent twists. It's not Lang at his most pure, but it's worth hunting down.
Cloak And Daggers looks very nice on Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.33.1., even if it's obvious by the many small scratches on the image that the film hasn't been given a proper full blown restoration. There's a nice amount of natural looking film grain present that results in a very film like presentation without the picture ever looking too deteriorated or dirty because of it. Texture is good and black levels are strong, with very average shadow detail for an older picture made on a modest budget. As is often the case with Olive's older black and white catalogue releases, the movie could have been cleaned up more than it has been, but it still looks pretty good and it offers a reasonable amount of depth.
The only audio option on the disc is a DTS-HD Mono track in the film's original English language, no alternate language or subtitle options or offered. The audio is clean and clear and easy to follow, the dialogue easily discernible and the score sounds fine. There are no issues here with hiss or distortion and the levels are properly balanced throughout the movie. Range is obviously limited by the age and format of the source material, so expect some flatness throughout the movie, but overall the movie sounds decent enough.
Aside from a static menu and chapter selection, there are no extra features at all on this Blu-ray disc from Olive Films.
If Cloak And Dagger isn't the high point in the respective filmographies of Fritz Lang and Gary Cooper, but it's an interesting thriller in its own right. It meanders a bit and takes some time to get going but it ends strongly and Lili Palmer steals the show. The Blu-ray release from Olive Films offers up a nice presentation of the movie, though no extras of any kind. An interesting, if occasionally fairly flawed, feature that comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.