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Confessions of a Nazi Spy

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Confessions of a Nazi Spy
Confessions of a Nazi Spy 1939 poster.jpg
1939 Theatrical Poster
Directed byAnatole Litvak
Written byLeon G. Turrou (articles)
Milton Krims
John Wexley (screenplay)
Produced byHal B. Wallis
Jack L. Warner
Robert Lord
StarringEdward G. Robinson
Francis Lederer
George Sanders
Paul Lukas
CinematographySol Polito
Ernest Haller
Edited byOwen Marks
Music byMax Steiner (uncredited)
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • May 6, 1939 (1939-05-06)
Running time
104 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1.5 Million

Confessions of a Nazi Spy is a 1939 American spy thriller film. It was the first blatantly anti-Nazi film to be produced by a major Hollywood studio.[1] The film stars Edward G. Robinson, Francis Lederer, George Sanders, Paul Lukas, and a large cast of German actors, including some who had emigrated from their country after the rise of Adolf Hitler. Many of the German actors who appeared in the film changed their names for fear of reprisals against relatives still living in Germany.[2]


In Scotland in 1937, the postman asks Mrs. MacLaughlin to save him stamps from the letters she receives from all over the world. MacLaughlin forwards the contents of one envelope to Dr. Karl Kassel in New York City. There is a cut to Kassel who is at the Café Nuremberg and haranguing an audience of German-Americans. Most of the men are wearing the uniform of the German American Bund. He informs them that the Führer has declared war on the evils of democracy and that as Germans, they should carry out his wishes and claim power. The crowd salutes, "Sieg Heil!"

Kurt Schneider, an unemployed malcontent, is inspired to become a spy and writes to Hitler's personal newspaper. German Naval Intelligence know that he is not a double agent since the Americans have no counterespionage system. A naval officer, Franz Schlager, who is sailing to New York on the steamship Bismarck is ordered to contact Schneider.

On board the Bismarck, the power of the Gestapo is shown. The beauty operator Hilda Kleinhauer informs on her clients and carries material for Schlager.

An unnamed American Legionaire challenges Kessel at a meeting. He and others speaking out for democracy are attacked.

Schneider boasts to his friend Werner, now a private in the Air Corps, that he receives instructions from Hitler. Werner gets the Z code, and Schneider obtains medical records that will reveal troop strength in New York. Schneider proudly gives Schlager the information and receives $50 a month, Mrs. MacLaughlin's address, and a list of new objectives.

Kessel is called back to Germany and takes his mistress, Erika Wolff, and leaves his wife behind. The narrator provides a dramatic description of the fascist system of life. Kessel is put in charge of all Nazi activities in the United States. Under the slogan, "America for Americans," the country is swamped by propaganda while spies target military operations.

Thanks to the postman's curiosity, Mrs. MacLaughlin's role as a post office for a worldwide network of spies is uncovered by British Military Intelligence, and she is arrested. (In a moment that is chilling in hindsight, one letter is from Japan.) American military intelligence in New York consists of Major Williams and one assistant. Williams turns to the FBI for help although it has never played that role before. FBI Agent Ed Renard takes the case.

A horrifying scene shows Camp Horst Wessel in which German-American children are trained in Nazi ideals and military skills.

Schneider uses an alias, Mitchell, to obtain passports. He arouses suspicion, and the FBI follows the package and arrests him. Once it knows his true identity, they realize that it has the letter that he sent to MacLaughlin. Renard flatters his ego for hours and extracts a full, detailed confession. Through Schneider, Renard finds Wenz, Kleinhauer and Kassel. Kassel proudly shows Renard his files on important Americans that document racial impurity. He tries to burn the code key, but Renard stops him. Renard confronts him with Kleinhauer, who confirms his link with Schlager.

When Renard reveals that he knows about Erika, Kassel tells Renard everything that he knows about the German spy organization and reveals the intricacy and scope of the network. He is released, and the Gestapo is waiting. He swears that he revealed nothing, but its members are arrested outside his apartment building.

A federal dragnet captures many agents and their accomplices. On March 13, 1938, Hitler annexed Austria. Renard warns Kassell's wife that the Gestapo men have made bail. Karl returns home from meeting Erika and lies to his wife. He packs and refused to take her with him. She does not warn him, and when he goes out, the Gestapo captures him and takes him to the Bismarck. In Germany, he is told to claim that he was tortured. In New York, Hilda is given the same instructions.

Eighteen people are indicted. Four are in custody: Schneider, Wenz, Kleinhauer and Helldorf. Meanwhile, Hitler's march continues as "the democracies are given still another demonstration of the supremacy of organized propaganda backed by force." US Attorney Kellogg describes the role of fifth columnists in the Nazi conquest of Europe and calls for the United States to take a lesson. After a long trial, the spies are convicted. Over coffee, Kellogg and Renard talk about the "nightmare." Kellogg observes that "when our basic liberties are threatened, we wake up."

The closing credits roll to America the Beautiful.



Screenwriter John Wexley based his script on real events and the articles of former FBI agent Leon G. Turrou, who had been active in investigating Nazi spy rings in the United States prior to the war, and lost his position at the Bureau when he published the articles without permission.[3] Authors Paul Buhle and David Wagner of Radical Hollywood wrote that it "treated a real-life case" and that Warner Bros. had been warned by the Dies Committee "against slurring a 'friendly country'".[4]

Parts of the movie were a fictionalized account of a real-life espionage case, the Rumrich Nazi Spy Case, and the eventual trial in 1938 involving individuals convicted of spying for German government.[5][6][7] The FBI says Rumrich Nazi Spy Case was their "first major international spy case" and that Leon Turrou "was placed in charge" and eventually fired. Guenther Gustave Maria Rumrich was arrested on February 14, 1938, and charged with spying for Germany. He came to the FBI's attention when he attempted to obtain 50 passport application forms from the Passport Office in New York City.[8][9] In the film, Francis Lederer, as Schneider, plays the role equivalent to the real Rumrich.

The scene where an unnamed American Legionaire played by Ward Bond challenges Kessel at a meeting, is supported by others speaking out for democracy, provoking an attack by Bundists, is based on an actual event that occurred in late April 1938. when approximately 30 World War I American Legion Veterans stood up to the Bund in New York City during a celebration of Hitler's birthday. The veterans were severely beaten and later Cecil Schubert, who suffered a fractured skull, was personally recognized for his bravery by Mayor La Guardia.

The film was the first anti-Nazi film from a major American studio. At the premier, there were almost as many policemen and special agents in the audience as customers.[10] Wexley's script made a point of following the facts and real-life events of the Rumrich Nazi Spy Case whose participants went to trial in 1938.[11][12][13][14]

Reception and ban

The film failed at the box office.[15] Nonetheless, it won the 1939 National Board of Review Award for Best Film. The film was re-released in 1940 with scenes describing events that had taken place since the initial release, such as the invasions of Norway and the Netherlands. Scenes from Confessions of a Nazi Spy are shown in War Comes to America, the last of the Why We Fight propaganda film series, as well as the 2004 documentary film Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust.

Confessions of a Nazi Spy was banned in Germany, Japan, and many Latin American and European countries.[16][17] Adolf Hitler in particular banned all Warner Bros. productions from being shown in Nazi Germany as a result of the studio's work on the film.[18]

See also


  1. ^ Joseph D'Onofrio. "Confessions of a Nazi Spy". Archived from the original on 2007-03-12. Retrieved 2006-01-23.
  2. ^ "Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939)".
  3. ^ Fox, John (FBI historian) on Turner Classic Movies broadcast, 24 July 2008
  4. ^ Radical Hollywood: The Untold Story Behind America's Favorite Movies Hardcover – May 1, 2002 by Paul Buhle (Author), David Wagner (Author) (publisher) The New Press ISBN 1-56584-718-0 PPS 212-213
  5. ^ "Rumrich Nazi Spy Case".
  6. ^ Radical Hollywood: The Untold Story Behind America's Favorite Movies Hardcover – May 1, 2002 by Paul Buhle (Author), David Wagner (Author) (publisher) The New Press ISBN 1-56584-718-0 PPS 212-213
  7. ^ #7 Guenther Rumrich’s Passport Ploy
  8. ^ "Rumrich Nazi Spy Case".
  9. ^ "Chapter One". 2012-12-18.
  10. ^ The Warners Bros. Story, Clive Hirschhorn, ISBN 0-517-53834-2, 1986 edition, Crown Publishers pg. 198
  11. ^ Radical Hollywood: The Untold Story Behind America's Favorite Movies Hardcover – May 1, 2002 by Paul Buhle (Author), David Wagner (Author) (publisher) The New Press ISBN 1-56584-718-0 PPS 212-213
  12. ^ #7 Guenther Rumrich’s Passport Ploy
  13. ^ The Films of World War II (1973) by Joe Morella (Author),
  14. ^ "Chapter One". 2012-12-18.
  15. ^ Birdwell, Michael E. (1 February 2000). Celluloid Soldiers: Warner Bros. Campaign Against Nazism. NYU Press. p. 78. ISBN 978-0-8147-9871-3.
  16. ^ Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust, 2004 documentary film, Daniel Anker
  17. ^ The Warners Bros. Story, Clive Hirschhorn, ISBN 0-517-53834-2, 1986 edition, Crown Publishers pg. 198
  18. ^ "Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939)" – via

External links

This page was last edited on 15 October 2021, at 04:21
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