Sunday, July 18, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Diplomatic Courier (1952)

DIPLOMATIC COURIER, starring Tyrone Power in the title role, is an excellent Cold War chase movie filmed in European locations. I had never seen this film before, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Mike Kells (Power) is a State Department courier who finds himself caught up in the middle of a desperate espionage situation when his contact Sam (James Millican), an old war buddy, is killed before he can hand off a critical document to Kells.

U.S. Army Col. Mark Cagle (Stephen McNally) uses Kells as bait to try to unravel the plot and race against time to find the missing document. A gung-ho Army sergeant (Karl Malden) serves as Kells' informal bodyguard while Kells looks for a mysterious woman (Hildegard Neff) who knew Sam, and in turn Kells is pursued by a glamorous widow (Patricia Neal) he meets on a plane.

I found this film highly absorbing and suspenseful. The excitement begins very early in the film and builds to a satisfying conclusion. I always enjoy Tyrone Power, who's at the top of my favorite actors list, and Malden is a welcome screen presence as well. Neal and Neff are both excellent as women who have plenty of surprises in store for Mr. Power's character.

DIPLOMATIC COURIER reunited Tyrone Power with director Henry Hathaway, who previously worked with Power on JOHNNY APOLLO (1940), BRIGHAM YOUNG (1940), THE BLACK ROSE (1950), and RAWHIDE (1951).

As a side note, the sequence with a watch in a European pawn shop called to mind Hathaway's earlier spy film THE HOUSE ON 92ND STREET (1945). The opening minutes, which are "docu-noir" in style, are also reminiscent of the "procedural" aspects of 92ND STREET. I especially loved the demonstration of live teletyping between the U.S. and Europe, which looked very much like today's instant messaging.

Be on the lookout for Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, and Michael Ansara in bit parts; Marvin is the easiest to spot in his two scenes as an MP in Trieste. Dabbs Greer (Rev. Alden from LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE) is seen early in the film as a clerk working for U.S. intelligence. Hugh Marlowe narrates.

This film runs 97 minutes. It was photographed in black and white by Lucien Ballard, whose career stretched for over 55 years.

DIPLOMATIC COURIER is not available on DVD or VHS. It is shown from time to time on Fox Movie Channel. The print I recorded from FMC was of very nice quality.

Perhaps someday we'll get a third Tyrone Power boxed DVD set with the relative few of his films which aren't yet on DVD, such as this title, LLOYD'S OF LONDON (1936), SUEZ (1938), KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES (1953), and UNTAMED (1955).

2012 Update: DIPLOMATIC COURIER is now available on DVD-R via the Fox Cinema Archives.


Blogger Mary-Catherine said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:04 AM  
Blogger Mary-Catherine said...

I really could not agree more about this one (suspenseful, exciting, a strong finish, etc.), it's a most enjoyable ride through cold-war Europe (because of course we don't have to get slugged, drugged, or nearly drowned! (lol)) I saw part of some time ago, and thought it looked very good, but I only recently was able to see the whole movie. Needless to say, it didn't disappoint.

It appears to be very underrated, besides your excellent write-up, the only other review I've seen give it it's proper due is on Mystery File:, where author David Vineyard calls it "One of the best spy films of the Fifties."

Some other reviews claim Power seemed miscast and/or bored in the role, but I strongly disagree; I thought he did very well in a part that I could more easily picture Dana Andrews doing, had Ty not insisted on a change of pace.... an interesting 1951 news article by Bob Thomas reports how Power turned down "Lydia Bailey" and got his first ever suspension as a result: "The hard fact is that I just can't see doing another costume picture... I'd like to do a picture in which I could talk as normal people talk." Preferably a comedy, he goes on to say, but a follow-up article reports that he was satisfied with the script for "Diplomatic Courier."

10:19 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Maricatrin,

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this movie -- you've made me want to revisit it! In the years since I wrote this post I've become quite a fan of James Millican and to a lesser extent Stephen McNally, and I don't remember either of them well, while I remember Malden's role quite well.

I appreciate you linking to the Mystery File review as I enjoy the posts there -- I've found other occasions where the only review of an obscure movie which interested me was at Mystery File!

Best wishes,

6:09 PM  
Blogger Mary-Catherine said...

Hello Laura, I'm glad I made you want to revisit it! I also really like James Millican (who I sometimes confuse with his look-alike Jean Louis Heydt.)

I think Stephen McNally plays a great villain, but I've never been able to entirely buy him as a good-guy... which fact wasn't a problem here, as he played a rather dark and complicated "good-guy."

I easily spotted Bronson and Marvin, but I missed Ansara. I'll have to keep an eye out for him the next time.

My "Mystery File" link isn't clickable:-(, but it will work for anyone who copies and pastes it. I also enjoy their in-depth and appreciative reviews of "off the beaten track" films.

Tyrone Power would have got another chance at a cold-war thriller if he had been able to make "The Stalk", a Saturday Evening Post story he bought when he first started Copa Productions, but kept shelving.

Several times it was announced as going to be filmed in England and South America, and I wonder if it was the film Rouben Mamoulian spoke of in an American Classic Screen interview: "...had he [Power] not sustained the heart attack that ended his life in 1958, I would have done at least one more movie with him. He and I were preparing to do a film in the Amazon when he died."

8:45 AM  

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