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Nothing Beats a Great Spy Film

Looking back at the genre's best

Mar. 28, 2012
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Taut tales of stealthy undercover agents from the Civil War through the Cold War have provided some of the big screen's biggest thrills. Indeed, no genre has been more exciting than spy stories. With finely layered, well-crafted twists and turns about daring, covert operatives, these films never fail to satisfy. Here are 14 of the most tantalizing spy movies.

5 Fingers
(1952): This is a stunning true account of World War II's “Cicero,” valet to the British ambassador to Turkey. James Mason (hot for femme fatale Danielle Darrieux) sells secrets to the Germans. The film also stars Michael Rennie, Oskar Karlweis and Walter Hampden.

Eye of the Needle
(1981): Donald Sutherland, as a German spy, coldly knifes a dozen adversaries. Stranded on a British coastal island, he uncovers Allied D-Day subterfuge. The strong cast includes Kate Nelligan, Christopher Cazenove and Ian Bannen.

Foreign Correspondent
(1940): This ranks among Alfred Hitchcock's best films, with such famous cinematic flourishes as a chase through a crowd of identical umbrellas. American reporter Joel McCrea is caught in a German spy ring in Holland. Also starring are Laraine Day, George Sanders and Robert Benchley.

The House on 92nd Street
(1945): This is a fact-based drama of Nazi spies in a Manhattan brownstone infiltrated by the FBI. It features a cunning Signe Hasso, with William Eythe, Lloyd Nolan, Leo G. Carroll and Gene Lockhart, as well as a jolting surprise ending.

The Ipcress File
(1965): Michael Caine stars in the first of a scintillating series as unemotional Cockney crook-turned-agent Harry Palmer. Ipcress features grueling mental torture and an eerie musical score.

The Lady Vanishes
(1938): This is a tense tale about an elderly British spy (Dame May Whitty) who disappears on a train. This film, top early Hitchcock, includes witty work by Michael Redgrave, Margaret Lockwood and Paul Lukas.

The Man Who Knew Too Much
(1934/1956): Two versions of Hitchcock's espionage classic—the first with Leslie Banks, Edna Best and Peter Lorre, and the update with James Stewart and Doris Day—build to a clash of cymbals in a Royal Albert Hall assassination.

The Man Who Never Was
(1956): The most famous true spy story of World War II pulsates with suspense. The film stars Clifton Webb, Josephine Griffin, Robert Flemyng, Gloria Grahame and a sinister Stephen Boyd.

(1965): Marlon Brando is a profligate anti-Nazi coerced by the Brits into sabotaging a German cargo ship captained by Yul Brynner. Filmed in striking black-and-white, the suspenseful thriller also stars Trevor Howard, Wally Cox and Janet Margolin.

North by Northwest
(1959): This cross-country Hitchcock thriller starts with an assassination at the United Nations and ends atop Mount Rushmore. Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint and James Mason are at the top of their games.

Operation Crossbow
(1965): A sizzling story of volunteers trying to short-circuit Hitler's missile program includes great work by George Peppard, Lilli Palmer, Tom Courtenay, Anthony Quayle and Sophia Loren.

(1942): This heart-pounding Hitchcock film follows innocent dupe Robert Cummings trying to clear his name and foil Nazi spies, one of whom falls from the Statue of Liberty in a memorable finale. It is simply not to be missed.

Stalag 17
(1953): William Holden earned an Oscar for his role in this World War II prison camp film. Peter Graves stars as a German spy in this gem directed by Billy Wilder.

Triple Cross
(1966): British safecracker-turned-double-agent Christopher Plummer spars with Nazis—including Yul Brynner and Gert Fröbe—in a scorching true story.

Richard G. Carter was a
Milwaukee Sentinel reporter and local radio commentator, as well as a New York Daily News columnist. He has appeared on “Larry King Live” and “Donahue.”


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