36 Hours (1964) Blu-ray Review: Captivating Wartime Espionage

Imagine waking up one day, only to discover five years have passed and your memory isn’t what it used to be. No, it’s not another melodrama about people suffering from Alzheimer’s. Rather, that is the heart of a nifty Nazi conspiracy in George Seaton’s 1964 World War II thriller 36 Hours. Here, the late great James Garner stars as an American intelligence officer who ‒ after attending a top-secret briefing about the forthcoming Invasion of Normandy ‒ heads off to Lisbon to meet an informant. Alas, he doesn’t make it that far. Kidnapped by Der Führer‘s men, our hero instead winds up in the middle of a trap; and one which he isn’t even aware of, at that!

Rushing their unwilling patient through a series of temporary cosmetic procedures so that he will look sufficiently “aged,” Nazi agent and psychiatrist Rod Taylor ‒ in a grand supporting role as our chief villain ‒ creates a grand ruse for Garner in the hopes of learning about the Allies’ secret plans. Naturally, the Nazis aren’t about to leave any room for error, constructing a fake hospital retreat in the (German) mountains, where our hero awakens to be told the war is over, the good guys won, and that he has been experiencing memory problems. Why, they even assign North By Northwest bombshell Eva Marie Saint as the nurse and lover he can’t remember!

But time is running out fast for our antagonists (in fact, you might say they only have 36 Hours) to politely grill their oblivious hostage. Will the very bewildered Garner put the pieces together and figure out what’s going on before he becomes too comfortable with his good ol’ psychiatrist buddy and spills the beans about Normandy ‒ thus endangering the whole of the free world? Director and screenwriter George Seaton keeps things well-paced in this highly enjoyable 115-minute black-and-white thriller originally released by MGM, as based on a short story by the one and only Roald Dahl.

Featuring a riveting score by Dimitri Tiomkin and marvelous Panavision cinematography by the great Philip H. Lathrop, 36 Hours also features the on-screen talents of Werner Peters as an impatient SS Officer, John Banner, Alan Napier, Sig Ruman, and cult favorite Martin Kosleck. And, if you look closely, you’ll also see early film appearances by a pre-Star Trek James Doohan and future exploitation movie icon William Smith. James Garner also served as an (uncredited) executive producer.

Struck from a new 2k scan, the Warner Archive Collection has added yet another classic war thriller (to say nothing of yet another great James Garner title) to its ever-expanding library of movies on Blu-ray. And, as is usually the case, the WAC has done an excellent job of restoring this cutting-edge (for 1964) espionage adventure, presenting us with a jaw-droppingly gorgeous transfer of this somewhat underrated WWII gem. The original mono soundtrack has received a DTS-HD MA 2.0 redux for this release, which sounds perfect throughout. Optional English (SDH) subtitles are on-hand, while several scenes of German-language dialogue sport big, non-removable hard-coded translations. (Don’t worry, it shouldn’t distract you any.)

As far as special features go, there’s not much to be found on this Warner Archive release. That said, the included theatrical trailer has also been remastered in High-Definition. But that shouldn’t dissuade you from checking out this well-constructed film, which I highly recommend to spy and war movie aficionados everywhere. And besides, where else are you going to see Jim Rockford, Alfred the Butler, and Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott share a scene together in a movie about an impossible mission that predated the entire Mission: Impossible series?

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Luigi Bastardo

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