Cloak and Dagger is one of Fritz Lang’s anti-Nazi spy thrillers. It was also his first post-WW2 film, but it feels more like Man Hunt or Hangmen Also Die! than the fantastic string of noirs that he made not long after the war and on up to the mid ’50s. Lang emigrated very soon after he had a meeting with Joseph Goebbels in 1933, where he was offered the position of head of the German film studio UFA. Lang was known to falsify exactly how he left Germany: he went back a couple of times to sort out his affairs during the next year or so, including divorcing his Nazi-sympathising wife, Thea von Harbou.
The film is a fairly routine spy thriller, with Gary Cooper playing scientist Alvah Jesper. Jesper is asked by the US government to find some atomic scientists who are being held by the Nazis, and to get them to switch over and come back to the US to aid the war effort. There is a fairly uninteresting and chemistry-free romance between Cooper and a leftie resistance fighter played by Lilli Palmer. It’s well made, as you always expect from one of truest Masters of Cinema: this is the 13th Lang film to be included in Eureka’s Master of Cinema range.
The blowback from the film was pretty interesting. Although never a communist, Lang was always under suspicion from Joseph McCarthy due to his numerous friendships with leftists and his anti-Nazi movies. Cloak and Dagger screenwriters Ring Lardner Jr. and Albert Maltz were two of the Hollywood Ten, who refused to testify before the HUAC and were found contempt of the court—what happened to those First Amendment rights? Ring Lardner Jr. would infamously go on to win the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for M*A*S*H, although the film was largely rewritten and improvised by the cast. Maltz, however, would struggle for years, although he eventually got some work in the early ’70s, writing a duo of films for Clint Eastwood/Don Siegel: Two Mules for Sister Sara and The Beguiled. The last film Maltz was credited on before the blacklist was the excellent noir Naked City, directed by Jules Dassin, who fled to France after being blacklisted.
Finally, Cloak and Dagger is enjoyable and has a great shoot-out in the film’s climax but both Lang and the screenwriters did better work before and after. Still, if you’re a Lang devotee, it’s essential. The disc includes a commentary, visual essay and a bunch of radio adaptations. The booklet has a new essay by Samm Deighan.