I Escaped from the Gestapo (1943)

Its title implies a “behind-enemy-lines” thriller set inside Nazi Germany, but this 1943 production is set in the good ol’ U.S.A. – mostly in Southern California. It tells about a skilled counterfeiter (Dean Jagger) who finds himself suddenly sprung from prison by a well-organized group of law-breakers seeking to make use of his talents. These law-breakers, headed by John Carradine, set him up at a print-shop located next to an amusement park arcade. At first Jagger, who’s held as a virtual prisoner, assumes his “benefactors” are simply criminals of the standard variety seeking to make illegal money, but gradually he discovers they are actually agents of the Third Reich endeavoring to undermine America’s war effort. Jagger now vows to no longer work for them but they threaten to kill his mother unless he co-operates so Jagger then tries to find a way to alert the F.B.I. while still doing his captors’ bidding.

As well as offering intriguing glimpses of American life and attitudes during World War II, this low-budget production also provides characters and a story which hold one’s interest, though its story-line wavers a bit in the second half. The obligatory romance between Jagger and a young woman working at the arcade is temporarily derailed by a subplot in which Jagger tries to convert a young Nazi to the American side. In the process, the Nazi falls for the young woman and it takes some heavy-handed and not quite convincing plotting to resolve this romantic triangle.

The movie’s highlight scene occurs when the Nazis decide to use force on the reluctant Jagger. He’s shown, stripped to the waist, bound to his printing press, while Sidney Blackmer – yes, Sidney Blackmer – beats him 21 times across the back with a nasty-looking length of rubber hose. This being 1940s Hollywood, the hose is never shown actually striking Jagger’s back and Jagger’s reaction shots – he’s only photographed from the shoulders up – merely show him to be mildly distressed, as if he ate something that didn’t quite agree with him. Meanwhile John Carradine, who sits nearby reading a book, says: “Brutality disturbs me. Turn on the radio.” Perhaps soothing music will mask the sound of that hose smashing into Jagger’s back. Alas, Carradine’s notion of brutality is quite limited. Any cop or prison guard would know that a rubber hose is more effectively used not on a man’s back but on another, more sensitive part of his anatomy. And as for Jagger, that beating seems to have absolutely no ill effect on him, not even a back-ache.