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From the Vaults -- '13 Rue Madeleine'

March 18, 2011 |  5:05 am

  Jan. 23, 1947, 13 Rue Madeleine  

  13 Rue Madeleine  

Robert “Bob” Sharkey (James Cagney) and Charles Gibson (Walter Abel) discuss the incoming class of American secret agents in “13 Rue Madeleine.”  One of their students is a Nazi spy!

After a longwinded exposition, the 1947 film “13 Rue Madeleine” turns out to be a fast-moving suspense story of a double agent concealed among intelligence officers preparing for the invasion of Europe in World War II. Once the Nazi spy’s identity is revealed, the story unfolds rapidly and ends quickly, before anyone can have second thoughts about the resolution. It’s enjoyable as a lesser-known film of James Cagney, in which he is half  G-Man and half-crook on the side of good.  As he warns his class of agents, they should forget their American sense of good sportsmanship because the Axis doesn’t play by those rules!

Please notice: The ad says "Go ahead and tell the ending. It's too terrific to keep secret," which is your cue that spoilers are ahead, but I’ll keep them to a minimum.  

  13 Rue Madeleine  

Stock footage shows agents rounding up people of Japanese ancestry in “13 Rue Madeleine.”

I’ve had a longstanding curiosity about “13 Rue Madeleine” since I came across the ad while researching the Black Dahlia case. Whoever mailed Elizabeth Short’s belongings to the newspapers used letters cut from several movie ads on a Jan. 23, 1947, page of the Los Angeles Examiner and several letters were clipped from this ad for “13 Rue Madeleine.” I never found the film on videocassette but noticed that it was on Netflix, so I added it to my queue and it arrived the other day.

I was prepared for “Madeleine” to be one of those forgettable postwar pictures  about lesser law enforcement agencies, like “This Is the Shore Patrol,” and the documentary-style opening, with a stern-voiced narrator, shots of Washington, D.C., and David Buttolph’s jingoistic martial music, only raised my concerns. Then there’s the stock  footage of agents rounding up people of Japanese ancestry. Oh dear.

But once the exposition is out of the way, the story moves fairly quickly (actually it has to so that nobody notices the holes in the story). The stage is briskly set for the latest class of agents to go through training under Robert “Bob” Sharkey (James Cagney) and the plot picks up quickly when we learn that one of students is a Nazi spy.

Although there are supposedly 22 prospective agents, we only meet three of them and must try to figure out which one is the spy: Is it Suzanne de Beaumont (Annabella) a French refugee whose husband is missing in France? Jeff Lassiter (Frank Latimore) a former UCLA student now in uniform? Or William O’Connell (Richard Conte) a Rutgers graduate who had been working in Europe before the war?

  13 Rue Madeleine  

Which agent is the spy? Frank Latimore, left, Richard Conte or Annabella?

It isn’t long before the Nazi agent is revealed – by being too good at espionage. As shrewd intelligence officers, Sharkey and his superior, Charles Gibson (Walter Abel) try to use the mole to feed false information to the Nazis. The plans go wrong and after some further plot twists, we arrive at 13 Rue Madeleine, Gestapo headquarters in Le Havre, France.  Remember that this is a war story, so all the leads give their lives for their respective countries.

  13 Rue Madeleine  

Look, it’s Karl Malden. Check your parachutes, everybody!

There are quite a few familiar faces in “Madeleine,” notably Sam Jaffe as the mayor of a French village. This is Jaffe’s first movie after “Gunga Din,” and he’s completely unrecognizable – but excellent in his role. E.G. Marshall also appears briefly as a member of the French Resistance, and even in his early 30s, he looks old. Was this man ever young?

   13 Rue Madeleine  

E.G. Marshall, with Sam Jaffe, is about to take someone for a ride.


What’s interesting about “13 Rue Madeleine” is that it shows some of the postwar influences in movies, particularly the desire to shoot on location rather than on the back lot or sound stage. 
There’s no handheld camera work in “13 Rue Madeleine,”  a technique that gained popularity among cinematographers who shot combat films during the war, but the opening credits emphasize that to add realism, all of the scenes were filmed on location.


  13 Rue Madeleine  

“Madeleine” wraps up quickly and returns to an image from the opening sequence. “What is past is prologue,” the narrator warns, quoting the motto on a statue outside the National Archives. But does that mean the Soviets?  Or just that we should read our Shakespeare?

“13 Rue Madeleine” was directed by Henry Hathaway and filmed by Norbert Brodine, both of whom worked on the landmark film “Kiss of Death,” which was released the same year. The script was by John Monks Jr., who wrote “We Are the Marines,”  and Sy Bartlett, the co-author of  the novel “Twelve O’Clock High” whose screen credits include “A Gathering of Eagles.”

In case you are wondering, Anne Elisabeth Dillon is on hiatus, and I’m making a rare appearance in From the Vaults.