George Seaton had already written and directed the very impressive The Counterfeit Traitor when he turned his attention to this absorbing and cleverly-plotted thriller. Once again the film is set during WWII and once again Seaton weaves an exciting story against the backcloth of that intriguing and terrifying period of history.
Major Jefferson Pike (James Garner) is an American intelligence officer who is kidnapped and drugged en route to Lisbon during the days approaching the D-Day Landings. Pike’s original mission before his capture was to pass on misleading information to the Germans, intended to trick them into expecting the Allies to storm ashore at Calais rather than the actual intended target area of the Normandy beaches. When Pike awakens, he is unknowingly in a secret compound in Bavaria, and the D-Day attack is still 36 hours away from actually taking place. He is told by disguised Nazi spy, Major Walter Gerber (Rod Taylor), that the war is over and that he has been suffering from amnesiac lapses for the past six years. Gerber’s plan is to convince Pike that the war ended years previously with Allied victory and that it is safe to reveal details about the D-Day Landings…. details which would, in fact, be very useful to the German forces in the hours approaching the top-secret Allied attack.
It is a very interesting plot, and is well-handled. Rod Taylor’s performance as the slippery Nazi trickster is exceptionally good, while Garner handles his slightly dull role (as the hero with sensitive information which he is unsure about revealing) with efficiency. The crisp black and white photography – unusual for a film made in the Technicolour-obsessed ’60s – adds to the film’s verisimilitude and sense of period, giving it a documentary-like feel. While the proceedings are stretched out to a rather lengthy 115 minutes, the film doesn’t become significantly tedious and manages to keep the viewer excited (even though we know, because of the real-life success of the D-Day invasion, that the audacious Nazi plot is doomed to fail). 36 Hours is a solid, suspenseful yarn which should satisfy anyone who enjoys stories about wartime intrigue and audacious masquerades.