Cast & Crew
During World War II, Charles Stevenson Gibson, a St. Louis attorney with an extensive background in international affairs, is chosen by President Roosevelt to organize the secret activities of a new Intelligence Corps. Gibson, in turn, selects Robert Sharkey, a widely traveled, multi-lingual scholar who served with distinction in World War I, to administer the complex training program. Selected groups of volunteers report to Washington for rigorous training before assignment overseas. In 1944, the candidates selected for the 77th group include Suzanne de Beaumont, a French citizen who became stranded in the U.S. when France fell, and whose husband is an artillery officer in the French army. Jeff Lassiter, the son of an American consul, educated in Geneva and Oxford and recruited from the Officers' Training School at the University of California at Los Angeles, and Bill O'Connell, a Rutgers graduate and former employee of the foreign department of a major bank, are also chosen. At a secluded country estate, the twenty-two candidates are given two weeks of intensive testing to see if they qualify for further training. Gibson tells Sharkey he knows that one of the candidates is a German agent and Sharkey is assigned to identify him. The group undergoes tough athletic drills, observation tests, instruction in Morse Code, interpretation of sounds, mock interrogations and hypothetical and actual missions. Lassiter and O'Connell, who are room-mates, are sent on a trial mission together. Sharkey is convinced that O'Connell is the German agent because he is too good to be a beginner. Gibson confirms Sharkey's opinion but wants O'Connell, whose real name is Wilhelm Kuncel, to go as planned to England, where he will be fed misinformation about the second front campaign. In London, Sharkey and O'Connell visit the Netherlands Section of Allied intelligence, and O'Connell absorbs false information on Plan "B," the invasion of Germany through the Lowlands. Suzanne and Lassiter, meanwhile, are assigned a mission in France, where they are to locate a Frenchman named Duclois who has built a factory in which the Germans are manufacturing V-2 rocket bombs. They plan to enter France via Holland and no one, including O'Connell, who is to accompany them, must know what their mission is. When Sharkey then tells Lassiter that O'Connell is a German agent, he is shocked, but agrees to shoot O'Connell if he threatens to defect. Just after a farewell dinner, Suzanne learns that her husband is dead. When the trio parachute into Holland, one chute fails to open and Sharkey receives a message from Suzanne that Lassiter was killed in the jump and O'Connell has disappeared. A later cable reveals that Lassiter's parachute cord was deliberately cut. Knowing that the lives of all the agents are in danger as O'Connell can identify them, Sharkey takes over Lassiter's assignment and rendezvous with Suzanne at a safe house. At Nazi headquarters, meanwhile, O'Connell tells his superiors that they must find Lassiter's replacement. Sharkey, posing as an official of the Vichy government's Department of Labor, visits the mayor of the town where the rocket bomb factory is located and demands to meet Duclois. The mayor is actually a member of the French Underground and once Sharkey has proven his true identity, agrees to help him extricate Duclois from the heavily guarded Hotel Moderne where he lives and works. Meanwhile, the German state police have been investigating Sharkey and at Nazi headquarters, at 13 Rue Madeleine in Le Havre, O'Connell identifies a sketch of the American. As part of an elaborate plan, the mayor seeks protection from the Nazis against his countrymen, who regard him as a collaborator. Needing more men to protect the mayor, the Germans withdraw those guarding Duclois, enabling Sharkey to capture him. While the Underground put Duclois on a plane, Sharkey blocks the approaching Germans by deliberately crashing a car into them and is captured. Having witnessed the crash, Suzanne attempts to send a cable to Gibson, but is discovered by the Germans and killed. Later, in London, Duclois gives details of the factory layout to the RAF, who prepare to bomb it. Gibson receives part of Suzanne's final transmission in which she states that Sharkey is a prisoner at Nazi headquarters. As the Allies intend to bomb 13 Rue Madeleine, Gibson tells the pilots that Sharkey is no doubt being subjected to severe torture and that bombing the place may be the only way to release him from his suffering. Sharkey has been tortured but has revealed nothing. The bombing starts and Sharkey dies laughing in O'Connell's face, knowing that the vital D-Day secrets will perish with him.
Everett G. Marshall
Peter Von Zerneck
Frank De Langton
Jean Del Val
W. D. Flick
Harry M. Leonard
John Monks Jr.
Major Peter Ortiz
Louis De Rochemont
Darryl F. Zanuck
13 Rue Madeleine
13 Rue Madeleine was the second feature from producer Louis de Rochemont, who previously spent a decade producing the "March of Time" newsreel series, the most widely seen non-fiction films on American screens. In many ways it is an unofficial sequel to his feature debut The House on 92nd Street (1945), a wartime espionage thriller based on the real-life case of the FBI tracking down a ring of German spies in New York City. De Rochemont's background informed the film: it was based on a true story and largely shot on location, and the espionage drama, which was defined as much by the workaday procedure of the American agents as by the melodramatic storyline and the exotic danger of covert spies and double agents, was framed by authoritative narration. De Rochemont and director Henry Hathaway brought a realist aesthetic to the studio thriller and reunited with screenwriter John Monks, Jr., narrator Reed Hadley, and veteran cinematographer Norbert Brodine for 13 Rue Madeleine. Brodine's mix of natural light, location shooting, and "you are there" docu-drama compositions with heightened, expressionist lighting and dramatic angles to build tension in key scenes helped define de Rochemont's influential approach.
James Cagney plays Bob Sharkey, a founder of America's new counter-intelligence agency. The character was originally modeled on OSS founder William "Wild Bill" Donovan, but Donovan objected to the film's portrayal of the agency. The organization was renamed 077 in the film and similarities to Donovan were obscured in rewrites. Cagney had formed Cagney Productions with his brother, Bill, in 1942, and was still under contract to Warner Bros., but he took time out to take the lead in 13 Rue Madeleine for Fox, partly as a favor to Darryl Zanuck and partly for a generous paycheck to help float his struggling production company.
Cagney's screen legacy, from ruthless gangster to urban tough guy to maverick hero, and his physical presence and athletic prowess, from the bounce he adds to his lessons in combat training to the ferocity of his fighting on the mission, sells his authority and his credentials as an American spymaster. His team is practically a cross-section of the Allied effort: the confident, street smart urban guy (Richard Conte), the fresh-faced, all-American idealist (Frank Latimore), the young French war widow (Annabella), and the fatherly British veteran (Melville Cooper) who serves as Bob's right hand man. Sam Jaffe co-stars as the flustered French mayor of the coastal village trying to placate the occupying German forces. And keep an eye out for some uncredited appearances by future stars Karl Malden (as the jump master on the first mission), Red Buttons (jump master on the second mission), and E.G. Marshall (the mayor's driver).
The preliminary remarks following the credits (in type resembling a teletype message) promises audiences that the film was "photographed in the field and, wherever possible, at the actual locations." In fact, most of the interior scenes were shot on studio sets and Quebec City doubled for many of the French locations, though the film does make good use of second-unit footage for establishing shots and backdrops.
Even though the producers claim the film to be based on a true story (shots of official government records and files pulled from the archives help sell the idea) and hired real-life OSS veteran Peter Ortiz to serve as the film's technical advisor, ostensibly adding a level of legitimacy to the film's portrayal of the training regimen and mission details, 13 Rue Madeleine is more fiction than fact. This is Hollywood's idea of a heroic espionage thriller in the dirty business of counter-intelligence, complete with a commander personally heading out into the field to right a mission gone wrong. Hardly the stuff of military procedure, but then a two-fisted pug like Cagney was never one for delegating the dirty work or shirking his responsibility. He gives everything to the war effort and his reward is one of the most memorable exits of his career, an explosive moment of sacrifice and salvation captured in the wise-guy cackle of his triumphant laugh as only Cagney can deliver.
by Sean Axmaker
"Film Noir: The Dark Side of the Screen," Foster Hirsch. Da Capo Press, 1981.
"Cagney," John McCabe. Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.
"Cagney," Patrick McGilligan. A.S. Barnes & Co., 1982.
"James Cagney: A Celebration," Richard Schickel. Little, Brown and Company, 1985.
"Film Noir: The Directors," ed. Alain Silver and James Ursini. Limelight Editions, 2012.
13 Rue Madeleine
13 Rue Madeleine was the second documentary-like feature produced by the team of Louis de Rochemont, Henry Hathaway, John Monks, Jr. and Norbert Brodine. (For information on the first, see The House on 92nd Street.) Although an opening title card states that "In order to obtain the maximum of realism and authenticity, all the exterior and interior settings in this Motion Picture were photographed in the field-and, whenever possible, at the actual locations," scenes set in London were shot in old Boston, French backgrounds were shot in Quebec, and a Massachusetts estate doubled as an English training base. In a December 1945 memo, included in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, studio head Darryl F. Zanuck suggested Randolph Scott for the role of "Sharkey," John Payne, Glenn Langan and William Eythe as "O'Connell" and Mark Stevens as "Lassiter." In April 1946, Zanuck tried to interest Rex Harrison in playing the role of Sharkey, pointing out to him that Sharkey "could have been an RAF Wing Commander, wounded and grounded, sent to Washington as a member of the RAF mission." Actor Horace MacMahon is credited in the Variety review cast list but his role as a burglary instructor was eliminated from the final release print. An adaptation of the film was broadcast on Lux Radio Theatre on October 20, 1947 and starred Robert Montgomery and Lloyd Nolan.