The Cohen Case Files: I Deal in Danger (1966)

Screenplay by Larry Cohen

Before he was a prolific spec screenwriter, he was a prolific independent filmmaker, and before he was a prolific independent filmmaker, Larry Cohen was a prolific television writer.  In the ‘60s alone, he created four series and wrote episodes of thirteen other series, including such popular programs as The Defenders and The Fugitive.  Needless to say, this is a man who doesn’t take a lot of time off.  But even the busiest of film and television scribes can pad their number of credits (not to mention their wallets) by repackaging old projects into something sort of new.  Such is the case with I Deal in Danger.

A theatrical release in 1966, I Deal in Danger was actually just a few episodes of Blue Light, a Cohen-created World War II espionage series reedited into a ninety minute film.  As the product of industry recycling, it lacks the production values or sweep of a cinematic production, but it still manages to work as modest, pleasantly old-fashioned entertainment.

David March (Robert Goulet) is an American spy working undercover in Nazi Germany during World War II.  Having convinced the Nazis that he doesn’t believe the Allies will win the war, he apparently switches sides.  But March is actually working for a secret organization of Allied spies code-named “Blue Light”.  David’s job is to gain the trust of the Nazi superiors who are using him as a propaganda tool so he can sabotage a secret weapons project that the Nazi’s plan to use against the Allies during the D-Day invasion (never mind the fact that the apparent intimate knowledge of the D-Day plans several months in advance of the invasion ought to be enough of a Nazi advantage to turn back the surge–historical accuracy and logical military planning take a back seat to melodramatic plot twists and espionage suspense in the world of I Deal in Danger).

To aid him in his efforts, March is joined by another apparent traitor in the lovely form of Suzanne Duchard (Christine Carère), the daughter of a shamed French aristocrat who was executed by the French Resistance for collaborating with the Nazis.  Using her supposed anger at the French Resistance as a cover, she is trusted almost completely by the Nazis.  It’s this trust that leads them to assign her to keep tabs on March, who they fail to fully trust.  If the filmmakers or the characters recognize this obvious irony, they fail to acknowledge it.

Oddly enough, for a plot that finds the hero always just one piece of bad information away from being killed, I Deal in Danger at times feels an awful lot like an episode of Hogan’s Heroes (which was on the air at the same time as Blue Light).  The main reason for this is that the Nazi characters are nothing more than a a bunch of easily duped caricatures–vain, full of the righteous belief that Germany will prevail, they are easily blinded by David and Suzanne’s schemes.  Unfortunately, the relative ease with which the Nazis are fooled removes a lot of their maliciousness, which only serves to deflate any tension the film occasionally builds up.

At the same time that the film turns highly trained SS officers into the Keystone Kops, Cohen and director Walter Grauman go out of their way to avoid mentioning anything that could even be an oblique reference to the Holocaust.  I suppose I’m thankful for that choice.  After all, exploiting such a tragedy for a piece of escapist entertainment such as this film, would have been in very poor taste.  But the fact remains, the filmmakers fail to ever clarify what makes the Nazis so sinister.  Yes, they’re trying to take over the world, but the film portrays them as so clueless and inept, the only reason I was able to believe them as a threat to David or the rest of the world, was to think of them in terms of how real world history played out.  In that regard, I suppose the film manages to have the best of both worlds–it never has to deal with the sticky ethical issue of how to approach the Holocaust without seeming crass, yet it’s able to capitalize on the immediate negative and hateful thoughts that spring to the mind of most people when Nazis are trotted out as the villains.

The film is largely buoyed by the presence of Goulet in the lead role.  While his late-career work turned him into a kitschy punchline, Goulet provides just the right mix of humor, gravitas, and swashbuckling attitude to keep the events entertaining.  Without his impressive turn, I more than likely would have focused on the television rhythms of the editing, the cheap sets, and the silly plot.  But Goulet’s performance allowed me to process those problems as merely adding to the charm of a misguided attempt to create an American “James Bond-type” for weekly television.

If I Deal in Danger does nothing else, it highlights Cohen as a show business survivor.  Very few writers are lucky enough to have one script produced during their career.  Here is a man who has worked steadily in the industry for fifty years, did what he wanted, and has made a good living at it.  I Deal in Danger may not be a good movie–technically, it’s barely even a movie–but it is fun in a nostalgic sort of way.  It’s also a good reminder of why, as a writer, I respect and admire Larry Cohen so much.

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