blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

O.S.S. (1946, Irving Pichel)

Pichel does such a good job with the majority of O.S.S., it’s a surprise how ineptly he handles the jingoistic last scene. It’s a WWII patriotism picture (is there a proper term for this genre?), so that last scene is requisite, but Pichel could have at least made it work. Instead, he hangs the film out to dry.

O.S.S. runs long, but in a good way. It takes almost a full half hour before Alan Ladd and his fellow espionage agents are dropped into occupied France. The film opens with Ladd, but quickly shift gears to follow Patric Knowles as he puts together the team. When it does bring Ladd back in, it’s after leading lady Geraldine Fitzgerald is introduced.

While Ladd holds the film (and he’s the one most injured by Pichel’s wrong-headed finale, right after his best scene), Fitzgerald is sort of the secret weapon. She’s absolutely fantastic, making some of the creakier scenes work. Ladd–we learn twenty-five minutes in–is sexist. It’s contrived and writer Richard Maibaum never quite makes it work, but since the scenes are with Fitzgerald, she brings them through.

Pichel’s direction is great; he’s able to handle the thriller elements, the repetitious spy scenes but also the dramatic ones. His composition is strong and he makes great use of the sets. Lionel Lindon’s photography helps.

There are a couple great supporting performances–John Hoyt as an odious Nazi and Harold Vermilyea as an opportunistic one.

The film very nearly works.

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