Diplomatic Courier DVD Review: A Sturdy, if Unremarkable Cold War Thriller

Henry Hathaway's post-WWII suspense film isn't particularly memorable, but it generally gets the job done.
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It’s not particularly stylish and there’s little subtext to Henry Hathaway’s 1952 Cold War espionage drama Diplomatic Courier, but it gets the job done as a sturdy, engaging tale of crisscrossed loyalties and post-WWII mistrust. Nearly everything about the film is on the nose — characters frequently spell out their motivations with explicit detail and the various twists and turns are both telegraphed ahead of time and explicated in follow-up scenes to ensure the audience’s complete understanding. Nonetheless, Diplomatic Courier is solid B-entertainment with a capable cast, and the Fox Cinema Archives burn-on-demand disc gives it a respectable Region 1 showing.

Diplomatic CourierThe dashing and masculine Tyrone Power stars as Mike Kells, the titular diplomatic courier tasked with taking top-secret government documents through enemy territory and depositing them into safe hands. It’s a job he’s performed countless times, but this go-around, things don’t go according to plan. On the train where he was supposed to take possession of the document, Mike witnesses his contact murdered by two mysterious men.

Suspecting a female passenger (Hildegard Neff) of being involved, Mike makes it his goal to discover her identity, and he’s aided by a pair of military men (Stephen McNally, Karl Malden) whose own motivations might not be exactly in line with Mike’s. He identifies the woman as Janine Betki, a nightclub performer and a presumed Russian agent, but his own attraction to her and her protestations to the contrary wear away at his certainty. She’s not the only woman vying for Mike’s attention — society woman Joan Ross (Patricia Neal) keeps running into him as well, and it’s obvious she’s interested for some reason or another.

Hathaway keeps all his balls in the air with relative ease as Mike must constantly reevaluate his relationships with those surrounding him. While the film’s insistence on ensuring complete narrative clarity isn’t exactly the most interesting choice, it’s also to its credit that the mass of interconnecting plot threads doesn’t devolve into a muddled mess. With its ultimately unimportant MacGuffin and a suspenseful tale of shifting identities, Diplomatic Courier might not be much more than a pale Hitchcock imitation, but it could have been a lot worse.

The Fox Cinema Archives burn-on-demand DVD offers up the film in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, with some admirably clean elements ensuring a mostly blemish-free transfer. While detail is good, the image can be rather noisy, especially on white surfaces. Audio is intelligible, but a light hiss is pretty constant. The disc features no extras.

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