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In the World War II drama Nazi Agent (1942), the Statue of Liberty serves as inspiration for a German immigrant who is headed back to his native land on a dangerous espionage mission.
Set in the U.S. prior to the attack upon Pearl Harbor, Nazi Agent tells of German-born identical twins (both played by Conrad Veidt) who have taken widely divergent paths in life. The gentler of the two has settled in America as the owner of a rare-book store, while the other has become a Nazi officer. When the two clash, the evil twin is killed and the "good" American shaves his beard to assume his brother's identity as the leader of a spy ring. He returns to Germany (gaining strength from that glimpse of the Statue) in an attempt to spoil Nazi plans to sabotage Allied shipping routes.
Jules Dassin, who began his directing career in MGM's short-subject department, graduated to feature films with Nazi Agent. He moved on to Universal Studios, where he would direct several well-regarded crime dramas before being blacklisted during the Hollywood "witch hunt" of the 1950s. He then moved to Europe and enjoyed a successful career in England and France before entering his "Greek period" in the 1960s when he married actress Melina Mercouri, the star of Dassin's biggest hit, Never on Sunday (1960).
German-born Veidt was himself a refugee who fled from the Nazis with his Jewish wife after rising to stardom in such films as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) and The Student of Prague (1926). He became a British citizen in 1939 and, during the early 1940s in Hollywood, played a series of commanding Nazis -- most famously in Casablanca (1942). Veidt was offered his role in that film classic during the filming of Nazi Agent.
The love interest in Nazi Agent is provided by Anne Ayars, who had begun her career as a singer in the 1930s. Active in MGM films in the early 1940s, she left Hollywood to become the New York City Opera's leading lyric soprano. She returned to movies one more time, playing Antonia in Michael Powell's The Tales of Hoffmann (1951).
Producer: Irving Asher
Director: Jules Dassin
Screenplay: Paul Gangelin, John Meehan, Jr., Lothar Mendes
Cinematography: Harry Stradling, Jr.
Original Music: Lennie Hayton
Editing: Frank E. Hull
Costume Design: Howard Shoup
Principal Cast: Conrad Veidt (Otto Becker/Baron Hugo von Detner), Anne Ayars (Kaaren De Reele), Frank Reicher (Fritz), Dorothy Tree (Miss Harper), Sidney Blackmer (Arnold Milbar).
by Roger Fristoe