Confessions of a Nazi Spy was seen as a huge risk for Warner Bros. at the time because it dared speak out against Nazi Germany at the time.
When Dr. Karl Kassel (Paul Lukas) makes his way to the United States, his main goal is to persuade German Americans to support the Nazi cause. Kurt Schneider (Francis Lederer), unemployed at the time, ends up joining the cause and becomes a spy. Schneider sends a letter in the mail, which British Military intelligence would intercept.
An FBI agent, Ed Renard (Edward G. Robinson) not only captures the spy but is able to secure his confession. In capturing the confession, the FBI is able to take down other members of the group. They go on by one but sadly, some Nazi sympathizers make their way back to Germany.
Harry and Jack Warner may have had their differences but my cap is off to them for greenlighting the production. The tipping point certainly came with the murder of their own employee, Joe Kaufman, at the Berlin office. Very few studios took the risk of losing the European market in the late 1930s. Warner Bros. was in the right for making this film because the atrocities in Nazi Germany were getting bad and would only worsen in a matter of months. Harry Warner had seen the evidence of antisemitism taking place in Europe. He was among the few to believe stories of those who escaped Nazi Germany.
The script is based on former FBI agent Leon G. Turrou. He had been assigned to investigate Germans in America. The end result, of course, would see Warner Bros. taking a strong stand against Germany. No longer would the European country be seen as a friendly country especially with Hitler in power. This didn’t stop people from threatening the studio. Of course, Harry Warner would have some strong remarks at a St. Patrick’s Day dinner in 1939. During this speech, the elder Warner brother decried anyone who glorified a dictatorship. The release would see Harry gets a summons to testify before the U.S. Senate.
The film didn’t do well at the box office. If anything, it is remembered for being an indictment against the Nazis at the time. Unfortunately, I must admit that I didn’t know about the film until reading The Brothers Warner. While it isn’t a classic on the same level as Casablanca, it also should not be forgotten in history.
Confessions of a Nazi Spy is a film that shows a studio with a conscience and one that uses their platform for the greater good.
DIRECTOR: Anatole Litvak
SCREENWRITERS: Milton Krims and John Wexley
CAST: Edward G. Robinson, Francis Lederer, George Sanders, Paul Lukas, Henry O’Neill