The Counterfeit Traitor (1962)

140 mins | Adventure | 13 April 1962

Director:

George Seaton

Writer:

George Seaton

Producer:

William Perlberg

Cinematographer:

Jean Bourgoin

Editor:

Alma Macrorie

Production Designers:

Tambi Larsen, Hal Pereira

Production Company:

Perlsea Co.
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HISTORY

The 14 Jan 1960 NYT announced that actress Lilli Palmer would be traveling to Germany the following April to appear opposite William Holden in a film based on the 1958 book by Alexander Klein. Five weeks later, the 27 Feb 1960 NYT claimed that principal photography would begin in London, England. On 21 Apr 1960, LAT noted that producer William Perlberg and writer-director George Seaton would by leaving the following week for Berlin, Germany, to make preparation. A 7 Jun 1962 start of production was anticipated. Holden arrived in Berlin on 28 May 1960 to begin rehearsals, according to that day’s NYT.
       While on location in Hamburg, Germany, Perlberg and Seaton wrote an article for the 18 Sep 1960 NYT, in which they detailed the challenges of filming a World War II drama in a country that had removed most traces of the conflict. One rare exception was West Berlin’s embassy row, where the crew was directed to remove vegetation from the ruins, after which the rubble was “freshened by bulldozers.” In Hamburg, the team searched for several weeks before locating adequate wreckage as background for a particular scene. Interiors were shot at Real Film Studio, which Perlberg and Seaton compared favorably to U.S. facilities, adding that ninety percent of their crew were Germans. Several were veterans of the Wehrmacht and the Hitler Youth and offered technical advice on “Nazi procedure and attire.” In one instance, it was advised that the portrayal of a Gestapo agent was “too sweet.”
       Although most German spectators appeared to be unfazed by ... More Less

The 14 Jan 1960 NYT announced that actress Lilli Palmer would be traveling to Germany the following April to appear opposite William Holden in a film based on the 1958 book by Alexander Klein. Five weeks later, the 27 Feb 1960 NYT claimed that principal photography would begin in London, England. On 21 Apr 1960, LAT noted that producer William Perlberg and writer-director George Seaton would by leaving the following week for Berlin, Germany, to make preparation. A 7 Jun 1962 start of production was anticipated. Holden arrived in Berlin on 28 May 1960 to begin rehearsals, according to that day’s NYT.
       While on location in Hamburg, Germany, Perlberg and Seaton wrote an article for the 18 Sep 1960 NYT, in which they detailed the challenges of filming a World War II drama in a country that had removed most traces of the conflict. One rare exception was West Berlin’s embassy row, where the crew was directed to remove vegetation from the ruins, after which the rubble was “freshened by bulldozers.” In Hamburg, the team searched for several weeks before locating adequate wreckage as background for a particular scene. Interiors were shot at Real Film Studio, which Perlberg and Seaton compared favorably to U.S. facilities, adding that ninety percent of their crew were Germans. Several were veterans of the Wehrmacht and the Hitler Youth and offered technical advice on “Nazi procedure and attire.” In one instance, it was advised that the portrayal of a Gestapo agent was “too sweet.”
       Although most German spectators appeared to be unfazed by recreations of their country during wartime, travelers at Hamburg’s Hauptbahnhof railway station were reportedly “aghast” to find the platform filled with Nazi soldiers and posters “hailing the Third Reich.” A Hamburg newspaper published a relevant photographic essay in the next day’s edition.
       A news item in the 6 Apr 1962 LAT noted that the production employed “authentic espionage devices,” loaned by the Museum of Danish Resistance while the company was on location in Copenhagen. Among the artifacts were “underground printing presses, secret communication devices,” and cyanide capsules.
       The 12 Nov 1960 LAT revealed that the company had moved to Stockholm, Sweden, then went on hiatus due to the lack of available sunlight. William Holden was expected back on set in Apr 1961 to film additional scenes. A news item in the 21 May 1961 NYT noted the recent end of principal photography. Post-production was likely completed by 14 Oct 1961, as stated in that day’s LAT.
       While production was underway, the 6 Sep 1960 NYT reported that the International Cinematographers Guild had voted to picket two William Holden films: The Counterfeit Traitor and The World of Suzie Wong (1961, see entry). The guild complained that Holden, who lived in Switzerland to avoid U.S. taxes, was forcing American producers to accommodate him by filming in Europe. Weeks later, the 13 Oct 1960 edition stated that the guild relented, as their complaints would be discussed the following month during contract talks between the studios and the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE). The article also mentioned that unions had recently persuaded producers to relocate two European projects to Southern California. However, on 26 May 1962, NYT reported that the guild reversed its decision again, claiming that Holden’s refusal to work in his native country deprived American film workers of salaries totaling approximately $7 million per year. Joining the protest were the Los Angeles, CA, chapters of the Studio Electrical Lighting Technicians and the Motion Picture Studio Grips.
       The Counterfeit Traitor opened 13 Apr 1962 at the Warner Hollywood Theatre in Los Angeles. The New York City opening followed four days later at the DeMille Theatre. Proceeds from the screening benefitted the Overseas Press Club’s World Memorial Press Center. Reviews were relatively positive, although the 15 Apr 1962 LAT noted that Seaton sometimes chose dramatic license over historical accuracy when writing his screenplay.
More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Los Angeles Times
21 Apr 1960
Section B, p. 10.
Los Angeles Times
12 Nov 1960
Section A, p. 6.
Los Angeles Times
14 Oct 1961
Section A, p. 8.
Los Angeles Times
21 Mar 1962
Section C, p. 14.
Los Angeles Times
6 Apr 1962
Section C, p. 10.
Los Angeles Times
15 Apr 1962
Section M, p. 4.
Los Angeles Times
13 Jun 1962
Section C, p. 11.
New York Times
14 Jan 1960
p. 31.
New York Times
27 Feb 1960
p. 13.
New York Times
28 May 1960
p. 13.
New York Times
6 Sep 1960
p. 41.
New York Times
18 Sep 1960
Section X, p. 11.
New York Times
13 Oct 1960
p. 43.
New York Times
18 Apr 1962
p. 28.
New York Times
21 May 1961
Section X, p. 7.
New York Times
24 May 1962
p. 15.
New York Times
26 May 1962
p. 13.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Perlberg-Seaton Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
German art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Danish art dir
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
Cost
Ward coordinator
MUSIC
Mus comp
MAKEUP
PRODUCTION MISC
Asst to the prod
Executive prod mgr
German prod mgr
Danish prod mgr
Swedish prod mgr
Scr girl
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Counterfeit Traitor by Alexander Klein (New York, 1958).
DETAILS
Release Date:
13 April 1962
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 13 April 1962
New York opening: 17 April 1962
Production Date:
7 June--early November 1960
April--May 1961
Copyright Claimant:
Perlsea Co.
Copyright Date:
31 December 1961
Copyright Number:
LP22370
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
140
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1942, Eric Erickson, an American-born naturalized Swedish citizen, is placed on the Allied blacklist for trading in oil with Nazi Germany. A few days later he is approached by Collins, a British Intelligence agent, who promises that if he will cooperate with the Allies by feeding them any information he picks up on his trips to Germany, his name will be cleared at the end of the war. Erickson knows he has no choice but to accept. By pretending to be pro-Nazi, he wins the confidence of high German officials, but the pretense causes his wife to leave him, and he is branded a traitor by his friends and countrymen. While on a trip to Berlin he meets Marianne Mollendorf, who later becomes his confederate and mistress. By inventing a plan to build an oil refinery in neutral Sweden to guarantee a fuel supply for Germany, Erickson gains permission to tour German refineries, the exact locations of which he passes on to Collins. At the same time, he is placed under surveillance by the Germans, and eventually the Gestapo discover that Marianne is working with the Allies and send her to Moabit Prison. Erickson also is arrested and is forced to watch her execution from a cell window. Though he is totally shattered by the experience, his claim that he never knew she was a spy is believed, and he is released. A short time later, however, he is exposed by a 12-year-old member of the Hitler Youth, the son of a friend whose support Erickson had enlisted. But with the help of the German underground Erickson escapes into Denmark, whence he is taken to Sweden aboard a ... +


In 1942, Eric Erickson, an American-born naturalized Swedish citizen, is placed on the Allied blacklist for trading in oil with Nazi Germany. A few days later he is approached by Collins, a British Intelligence agent, who promises that if he will cooperate with the Allies by feeding them any information he picks up on his trips to Germany, his name will be cleared at the end of the war. Erickson knows he has no choice but to accept. By pretending to be pro-Nazi, he wins the confidence of high German officials, but the pretense causes his wife to leave him, and he is branded a traitor by his friends and countrymen. While on a trip to Berlin he meets Marianne Mollendorf, who later becomes his confederate and mistress. By inventing a plan to build an oil refinery in neutral Sweden to guarantee a fuel supply for Germany, Erickson gains permission to tour German refineries, the exact locations of which he passes on to Collins. At the same time, he is placed under surveillance by the Germans, and eventually the Gestapo discover that Marianne is working with the Allies and send her to Moabit Prison. Erickson also is arrested and is forced to watch her execution from a cell window. Though he is totally shattered by the experience, his claim that he never knew she was a spy is believed, and he is released. A short time later, however, he is exposed by a 12-year-old member of the Hitler Youth, the son of a friend whose support Erickson had enlisted. But with the help of the German underground Erickson escapes into Denmark, whence he is taken to Sweden aboard a Danish fishing boat. He is met by Collins and Max Gumpel, the one friend who never believed he was a traitor. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.