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36 Hours (1964)

Rod Taylor plays Maj. Walter Gerber, a German psychiatrist pressed into service by the Nazis as an intelligence agent.

This movie has well-drawn characters played by top-notch performers. It has an unusual premise, a good deal of suspense and a touch of humor. Perhaps the biggest mystery is why this movie isn't more well-known.

In the days just before D-Day, American Maj. Jefferson Pike (James Garner) is sent to Lisbon to confirm that the Nazis erroneously think the Allied assault will be at Calais rather than Normandy.

But Pike is captured by the Nazis, who use a novel method of espionage to get him to disclose the true location of the invasion: They try to convince Pike that the war has been over for six years and there is no reason to keep the Allied assault a secret.

This plan is the brainchild of "Walt" Gerber, an earnest, intelligent, likeable man. Originally, the doctor used this brainwashing device to treat young, shellshocked soldiers -- convincing them that years had passed, the war was over and they were safe. He was interested only in healing and helping. But the Nazis found a way to twist his expertise to suit their needs.

The prize subject is Pike, who after his capture awakens in a hospital, supposedly suffering from severe amnesia. His is startled to see that he has aged -- he needs glasses and has gray hair. The newspaper says it's 1950. And Pike eventually is told that his nurse, Anna (Eva Marie Saint), is his wife.

All of this, however, is a carefully crafted fiction. And Gerber -- who appears to be an American doctor -- has 36 hours to get Pike to reveal the site of the D-Day invasion -- or else the SS will turn to more violent methods.

Taylor is brilliant in his role, creating a warm and engaging character -- not an easy task considering Gerber is a German officer during World War II. That's generally not a sympathetic character type, but Gerber is different: He's a good soldier, a good doctor, but not a good Nazi.

In fact, Taylor once commented:

I loved the role of Walter Gerber because it was almost two roles in one: charming American doctor on one hand, and the Nazi-hating young German on the other.

-- Rod-Lore fan club newsletter, October 1964

Praise was heaped upon Rod in a review of the Blu-Ray release of the movie. The review noted how the memory loss premise of the movie is disorienting...

Further disorienting viewers nearly as much is that fact that Rod Taylor was an Australian playing a German impersonating an American. In a few scenes he speaks German to his superiors, and toward the end he switches from his U.S. Army doctor's uniform to a German Luftwaffe one, but at all times he's very convincing.

The movie's plot, and Taylor's character particularly are wildly improbable almost to the point of being absurd but Taylor, who stands out in the film, even above Garner, sells it magnificently. His screen persona, tough and masculine but gentle and reassuring almost to the point of sweetness, made him as perfect for 36 Hours as his signature roles in The Time Machine and Hitchcock's The Birds.

"Good German" characters are almost impossible to play, but Taylor succeeds in winning the audience's sympathy, even though he's working harder than anyone else trying to extract top secret info for Nazis.

The movie had its world premiere in London on Nov. 26, 1964, and debuted in the U.S. in January 1965.



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IMDB // Wikipedia

Turner Classic Movies

Pressbook item about Rod (PDF)

Rod Taylor plays a villain now, 1964 article (PDF)

On Location report from Liz Ploger, Rod-Lore newsletter, October 1964 (PDF)

On the set report from a fan, Rod-Lore newsletter, October 1964 (PDF)

MGM press release: A U.S. national park was transformed into the Black Forest of Bavaria.

DVDTalk review of Blu-Ray

Dusted Off blog analysis

Beware of the Dog: Roald Dahl short story upon which "36 Hours" is based.



Available on DVD

Trailer on YouTube