Film / 36 Hours (1965)

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36 Hours is a 1965 World War II film directed by George Seaton and starring James Garner, Rod Taylor, and Eva Marie Saint. It was adapted from a short story by Roald Dahl.

The film is set just before D-Day. The Germans drug and capture Major Jefferson Pike (Garner), an American intelligence officer on a mission to Lisbon. They know he was briefed on the planned time and place of the invasion. How to make him talk freely?

When he wakes, he is told that he has lost all memory of the last six years. That's right, Major, it's 1950. Yes, of course the Allies won the war back in 1944. You are in a U.S. military hospital in Occupied Germany while we treat your most recent bout of amnesia. Now, as part of your therapy, tell us the last thing you remember...


This film provides examples of:

  • All Germans Are Nazis: Refreshingly averted. Gerber expresses distaste for the SS, was forced to help trick foreign agents into giving information with the amnesia ploy, then helps Pike and Hedler escape near the end. He tries to stop Schack when he's after them, but fails. Then there is the German smuggling ring who help people escape into Switzerland, one of whom roundly mocks Hitler. Hedler, naturally, is also no Nazi, having been sent to a concentration camp. The SS officer Schack is especially suspicious when Gerber's story of how the Allies won involves the German generals overthrowing Hitler with a coup, killing him, and the SS (along with its leader Himmler) then being purged, wondering acidly if it's "wish fulfillment" (the July 20th plotters actually tried this, but sadly it didn't work. This might suggest Gerber is one of them).
  • Amnesia Danger: Inverted. Pike doesn't have amnesia. He just is being made to think he does.
  • Amnesiac Lover: Inverted. Pike is led to believe that he fell in love with and married Anna Hedler during the period he cannot remember.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: This is apparently what Gerber felt, having given himself some lethal medication before Schack came.
  • Bittersweet Ending: If you were expecting wedding bells, think again. The winds of war take the lead characters in different directions. But there is a hint that Anna Hedler has regained the ability to feel.
  • Chessmaster: Gerber.
  • Cyanide Pill: Anna Hedler has one that she tries to slip Pike, though she fails.
  • Damn You, Muscle Memory: Upon beginning to suspect the ruse, Pike barks an order at a supposed American guard, who promptly clicks his heels in classic German fashion.
  • Faked Rip Van Winkle: Done twice. First as the whole premise of the film, and again when Gerber sets the clock in Pike's room ahead several hours so that Pike will think the invasion has begun.
  • Foregone Conclusion: We all know that the D-Day landings will achieve surprise. The tension-arousing question is how Pike will penetrate the ruse, and whether he will survive.
  • Good Shepherd: The (unseen) German minister who helps people get out of Nazi Germany.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Gerber.
  • Idiot Ball: Pike, when he falls for the ruse about the clock when he already knows that Gerber has huge form when it comes to messing about with his perceptions of time.
  • I Gave My Word: Pike and Hedler go back for the case notes that Gerber had made about real amnesia patients before his scientific idealism was corrupted, in order to fulfill their promise to him.
  • Just One Little Mistake: Pike notices that the paper cut he got in England - supposedly six years ago - still has not healed.
  • Locked Out of the Loop / Massive Multiplayer Scam: An entire cast of English-speaking German agents work together to deceive Pike.
  • Only in It for the Money: The amiably corrupt Sergeant Ernst who helps them escape and shoots the evil SS officer, Schack, rather than have Schack spoil his profitable people-smuggling business.
  • Rape as Backstory: Anna Helder was "used" by German soldiers and officers while in the concentration camps, which apparently traumatized her to the point that she's largely unable to feel. There is a hint at the end that she's regaining this ability at last though.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Ernst invokes this to justify shooting Schack to another border guard, saying he tried to desert into Switzerland.
  • Trapped in Villainy: Anna Hedler, a concentration camp prisoner forced to help deceive foreign agents. Possible Gerber also, since he first used his technique to help traumatized soldiers, but then was ordered into this instead.

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