Follow TV Tropes


Film / 36 Hours (1965)

Go To

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

Just prior to D-Day, the Germans drug and capture Major Jefferson Pike (Garner), a U.S. intelligence officer sent on a mission to Lisbon. They know that he's been briefed on the planned time and place of the invasion. How to make him talk freely?

When Pike awakens, 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 where we're treating your most recent bout of amnesia. Now, as part of your therapy, tell us the last thing you remember...

No relation to 48 Hours.

"Give me any American for 36 hours and I'll give you back a troper":

  • Affably Evil: Gerber. Even after his scheme is revealed, he continues to be cordial towards Pike.
  • All Germans Are Nazis: 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 Adolf 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".note 
  • 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.
  • Anti-Villain: Gerber.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: This is apparently what Gerber felt, having given himself some lethal medication before Schack came.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: SS Colonel Schack and Heer Major Gerber, until his Heel–Face Turn.
  • Big Fun: Sergeant Ernst.
  • 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.
  • The Con: Just before D-Day in 1944, the Germans try to get an American intelligence officer to reveal the time and location of the landings by setting up an entire fake American military hospital and convincing him that it is 1950 and that he has had amnesia and forgotten the last six years.
  • 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.
  • The Film of the Book: As noted, the film was based on Roald Dahl's short story "Beware of the Dog". The movie keeps the basic premise of an Allied soldier being held in a hospital by deceptive Germans, but changes pretty much everything else.note 
  • 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 Door-Slam: Gerber tries to stop Schack from going after Pike and Anna whom he helped escape, but fails when he finally succumbs to his lethal injection he gave himself at the absolute wrong moment.
  • 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: 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.
  • Punch-Clock Hero: Sergeant Ernst, who help escaped prisoners to Switzerland in exchange for gold.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Gerber, he and Pike even lampshades this as Pike has his job, and Gerber has his.
  • 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.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Gerber, who gave himself a lethal injection following his Heel–Face Turn.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Ernst invokes this to justify shooting Schack to another border guard, who gives the dead Schack a Spiteful Spit, saying he tried to desert into Switzerland.
  • Smug Snake: Schack.
  • Trapped in Villainy: Anna Hedler, a concentration camp prisoner forced to help deceive foreign agents. Possibly Gerber also, since he first used his technique to help traumatized soldiers, but then was ordered into this instead.