DVD: Triple Cross (1966)

July 21, 2015 | By

 

TripleCross_R2_sFilm: Very Good

Transfer:  Weak

Extras: Standard

Label:  Poseidon (Germany)

Region: 0 (PAL)

Released:  January 14, 2008

Genre:  War / Thriller / Espionage

Synopsis: Loose and lively adaptation of Eddie Chapman’s autobiography, chronicling the former safe cracker’s shift from life in prison to being a double agent for MI5 during WWII.

Special Features:  Includes both U.S. 121 min. and German 136 min. edits / German  English Theatrical Trailers.

 


 

Review:

The incredible life of former safe cracker-turned WWII British double agent Eddie Chapman provides enough fertile material for a mini-series, and yet when his biography (co-authored with Frank Owen) was adapted for the big screen, it clearly suffered from the influence of the James Bond spy craze, with director Terence Young arguably responsible for the loose handling of factual material.

Triple Cross is still a fascinating globe-trotting tale with enough action and intrigue to keep war thriller fans satisfied, although how one accepts Christopher Plummer’s interpretation of Chapman determines whether one embraces the film.

During the early 1950s, Chapman serialized his wartime experiences in a French publication prior to the book’s release in 1953 (as The Eddie Chapman Story), and there was reportedly an effort to produce a film version in Britain, but it took a Franco-British-German co-production team to bring the story to the big screen, with former Bond director Terence Young (Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Thunderball) at the helm.

Young reportedly knew Chapman prior to WWII, and clearly showed an affinity for the man and his wartime exploits, but the resulting script and film are hybrids of a Bond film, sometimes in tone and performances and scenes, other times by some amusing casting choices.

In the silver screen version, woman-loving Chapman (Plummer) is arrested on the island of Jersey and sentenced to 15 years of prison for his safe cracking endeavours, but when the isle is overtaken by Nazis, he approaches the prison’s new stewards with an offer to use his criminal skills and wily ways to help the German war effort. After a staged execution, Chapman is sent to occupied France where he’s trained with fellow special skills agents in the art of munitions, parachuting, combat, and explosives using common household elements.

His first test is to blow up a valuable plane factory, but once back in Britain, Chapman walks into MI5 with an offer to be a double agent. After staging a mass explosion, Chapman returns to his German handlers (Yul Brynner and Goldfinger’s Gert Frobe) by way of Portugal, and once back in Paris is lauded and becomes a rather hot commodity, wanted by various factions of the German Army. With one final job to do, he returns to Britain and feeds his handlers inaccurate info on V1 and V2 bombing results, ensuring the severity of casualties and damage are minimalized until the end of the war.

René Hardy’s script (with additional material credited to William Marchant) gives Chapman a French Resistance lover (Thunderball heroine Claudine Auger), a jealous SS overlord (Harry Meyen) who never believes in Chapman’s fidelity to Germany, and a Nazi-sympathizing Swedish Countess (stunning Romy Schneider, then married to Meyen), the only woman in the spy school who’s quite comfortable sporting rather sixties hairstyles and fashion accessories.

Plummer plays Chapman as a perpetually grinning cad, twisting a deadly situation into one of opportunity, and it is amazing no one wipes him out for perpetually breaking behavioral codes (never saluting, being flippant) – a credit, perhaps, to his value as a rare British traitor.

Schneider is lovely but doesn’t really offer more than impossible love to an otherwise cold tale of espionage, whereas Auger’s character seems to pop up in contrived coincidences that feel more pulpy than factual (which in fact, they are).

Frobe is fine as a former policeman elevated to Colonel, a man who shares a healthy level of cynicism yet knows when to obey to ensure he’s still got a job regardless of whoever wins the war, whereas Brynner very is strong as Baron von Grunen, Chapman’s chief handler, colleague and friend. (In another weird Bondian connection, Frobe at one point feigns drunkenness, grabbing a bottle and mimicking a classic oompa-pa band – a gag he also used in the film version of Ian Fleming’s kid tale Chitty Chitty Bang Bang the following year.)

It’s perhaps Chapman’s respectful friendship with von Grunen that keeps the film whole, largely because of their shared cynicism for war and its chief instigators:  more than the Colonel, von Grunen represents the old WWI elite – more noble than sadistic, and tired and disillusioned as psychopaths are constantly threatening their own personal security. Only the Colonel knows how to play the game, following orders from the SS and making only strategic suggestions to his superiors to ensure stable employment, and personal safety.

Young’s Bondian influence is seen in the characterization of Chapman – a cad who often delivers short dry quips – and certain sequences, notably a training montage where in one shot Chapman strolls and ducks during a walk along the chateaux grounds where men jump, fight, fire, swing, and swing around in defensive maneuvers much like Bond being shown the latest techniques and gadgetry by Q.

Composer Georges Garvarentz wrote a decent spy score with an End Credits vocal track, and was already adept at Bondian riffs, having scored That Man from Istanbul (1965), whereas French cinematographer Henri Alekan had shot both period war films – Austerlitz (1960) and the cheeky caper classic Topkapi (1964), after which he’d also film Young’s Mayerling (1968). Alekan had also just photographed Young’s Poppies Are Also Flowers (1966), starring Brynner.

Topkapi editor Roger Dwyre’s fast, no-nonsense cuts ensure the film keeps moving at a steady pace, but over the years the film has been regarded by some as a bit of an editorial mess, largely because the American release version hacked down Young’s film from a reported 140 mins. to just over 120 mins. For years the film’s been only been available on video here in the cut version, whereas tracking down the longer edit seems to yield success only in German DVDs that don’t always feature English dub tracks or subtitles over the extra material.

The Poseidon DVD (which weirdly features Jack Nicholson on the cover art) actually features both edits as separate films, even though the packaging says otherwise. It’s still a single layer disc, resulting in heavy compression of both films, but selecting the English dub track (no subtitles) actually loads a Warner-distributed 121 min. cut, whereas picking the German dub track (also no subs) accesses the longer 134 min. cut. (Running times are in 25 fps PAL; the NTSC equivalents may run about 10% longer due to the system’s 30 fps rate.)

Triple Cross was cut to fit an easy 2 hour exhibition slot for North American cinemas, but the removed material isn’t often whole scenes but small bits here and there. Most of the material features extended exchanges with Plummer, Schneider and a few with Auger, whereas others were designed to reinforce the mounting aggravation of Chapman’s SS handler – scenes which are actually quite redundant.

The Schneider-Auger scenes are important, though, because they allow for needed personal exchanges that also reduce Chapman’s cad behaviour, and also explain how Chapman was able to reconnect with his French Resistance fling in Paris: in the U.S. edit Auger just happens to wander into a restaurant, whereas the deleted scenes show Chapman getting some info from a village local and making a phone call prior to their rendezvous.

Also cut is a scene where, prior to pitching his double-agent offer to MI5, Chapman has a run-in with a starchy deskman, played by Gordon Jackson, and his colleague, played by Dr. No’s Anthony Dawson. Trevor Howard’s role – already quite small – doesn’t get any larger in the Euro edit, but it is interesting to note both Jenkins and Howard had appeared together / survived the 1962 version of Mutiny on the Bounty.

Poseidon’s transfer isn’t great – in addition to the severe compression, there’s the okay print sources and non-anamorphic transfers – but it is strange that Young chose to shoot the film in 1.66:1, as though either allowing for the film to be easily shown on TV, or masked for ersatz widescreen exhibition (even though Alekan’s compositions are pretty tight already).

Fans of the film certainly deserve a restored version – there’s no reason why an uncut HD version shouldn’t be on Blu-ray at this stage – and given Chapman’s crazy life, a special edition release, featuring an historian commentary and some documentary footage (notably a rare French interview, done for French TV at the time of the film’s release in which Chapman discusses his life in fluent French).

Christopher Plummer would also appear in the WWII films The Night of the Generals (1967) and The Battle of Britain (1969), and Veljko Bulajic’s Yugoslavian WWI epic The Assassination at Sarajevo (1975), whereas Yul Brynner co-starred in Bulajic’s Oscar-Nominated The Battle of Neretva (1969).

After building a career in period films spanning the Sissi series to similar war films like The Victors (1963), Romy Schneider seemed to bid farewell to the historic dramas, and after a 3 year sabbatical of sorts, co-starred in the character piece La piscine / The Swimming Pool (1969).

 

 

© 2015 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmography
 
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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