Suspenseful 1957 spy thriller with the Allies trying to fool the Axis into diverting resources to Holland instead of Normandy on D-Day.
Jeffrey Hunter is part of an Allied spy team who are working out of a film company office (shades of Argo) in a back alley walk up somewhere in London. Nigel Patrick plays the British Major in charge of the group, which is also made up of Dutch operatives: a professor and widower (David Kossoff) whose wife died in a concentration camp, a sergeant and radio operators, one of whom soon leaves for reconnaissance work in Holland. The replacement operative who arrives is played by Annemarie Duringer, who adds style and steel to in the team, and becomes involved with Hunter after a strange incident at the film office where she shoots a German intruder. Along with the romance comes the immediate suspicion that she might be a German spy come to figure out if their plan to invade Holland on D-Day is at all real or just a bluff, and for the rest of the film Hunter and Patrick must simultaneously feed false info to their team, the enemy and Duringer as they continue with their mission.
This story, claimed to be pulled from the files of the OSS, is a tightrope walk told in a nicely paced and suspenseful fashion without being frantic and has very realistic performances that are never overdone or melodramatic. Not one character or detail falls into stereotype or cliche; how easy it would have been to set up the stiff upper lip English Major to set against the gung ho impulsive American and mix in the cold as ice untrustworthy German femme. And they do each have those qualities, but are more fleshed out so that Patrick is also emotional, hot tempered, concerned and sensitive, while Hunter is wise and careful and far more brains than brawn or looks (stunning as they are !), always judging how much information to dispense and how close to get to Duringer as their relationship becomes a dance and a duel, with moments of disgust.
Duringer is a complete enigma who you believe for a long while could go either way; early on as she’s put through some friendly questioning she seems to stumble but recovers and presents herself as authentic enough, especially in her regard for Hunter and the others, and remains unpredictable because she’s convinced you there’s enough conscience lurking in there to separate the mission from the woman. By the time you figure out where her loyalties lie, the enemy kidnaps the Professor’s boy and his tongue loosened by terror, he tells how operatives were sent to Holland without their cyanide capsules. This ends up being not only the reason for the title (a count of five is how long it takes for the capsule to kill you) but info that sets in motion Duringer’s final moves, which must be matched by Hunter in a game of bluffs. The score deserves special mention for being sweeping, strategic and moving, which must have gone nicely with its CinemaScope format (which I didn’t get to see). Count Five and Die would make a great double feature with a favourite movie on this subject, The Man Who Never Was.
all images from JeffreyHunter.net