This takes the sixties fascination with war films into new and surprising directions by showing us a narrative based on German success most of which is built on the superior cunning and ruthlessness of a female protagonist.
It culminates in a quite spectacular attack on Allied forces by German cavalry with horses wearing gas masks and coats: quite the most disturbing thing I’ve seen for a while. Extra precautions are required for a gas that permeates anything less than full body cover and as the French, Belgian and English troops reel from the gas, a relentless tide rushes through their lines… if you didn’t know any better you’d swear this was the turning point in a victory for the Fatherland.
|The haunting image of horses in gas masks|
The film loosely based on the life of Elsbeth Schragmüller a First World War spy who had already inspired a number of films from the thirties onwards. Schragmüller did indeed have a doctoral degree in political science from the University of Freiburg and had smashed the glass ceiling academically before excelling her male colleagues in the war by rising through the ranks of the intelligence corps to become chief of the Kriegsnachrichten Antwerpen. She was awarded the Iron Cross First Class but much of her record is obscure and the subject of myth.
Did she even snog Capucine in order to obtain secrets? Suzy’s Doktor does in another eye-poppingly atypical moment - well, if it’s good enough for James Bond…
|All's fair in war and love?|
While Meyer tells all das Doktor goes about her business, blending into the coastal town from which she can learn of Kitchener’s plans. She gets a job a a cleaner and seduces a sailor (played by Michael Elphic) who tells her all she needs to know. Picked up by a German U-Boat she heads out to where the Kitchener’s ship will be and sees her mission succeed with its destruction.
Back at British intelligence, Meyer tells of how his colleague had acquired a deadly gas from underneath the noses of the Allies… The Doktor has passed herself off as a maid for Dr. Saforet (Capucine) who is a chemist developing an unstoppable gas. Dr. Saforet cannot resist a pretty face and falls hard for her young maid as the two begin a relationship that followed on from The Killing of Sister George – released just four months before.
Dr. Saforet is convinced by the young woman’s reactions to the brutality of the chemical weapon – it is for the greater good something the sweet thing might not understand but then, just as the formula is completed, Frauline Doktor strikes, shooting her in the back and making off with the key to possibly swing the war in Germany’s favour.
|Kill or be killed?|
Her morphine addiction is also a concern for her commander Colonel Mathesius (Nigel Green – excellent as always!) a mna every bit as sharp as his British counterpart. When Meyer turns up after apparently escaping the Brits, Mathesius quickly assesses what has been planned – helped by a traitor in the opposing camp. Meyer has been lined up to kill the Frauline with poisoned champagne… a plan that Mathesius seemingly allows to happen – killing two birds with one stone?
|Frau Doktor briefs the assasins|
All of which leads to that climactic battle – a scene from Hell every bit as frightening as any contemporary re-enactment.
|Beautiful from all angles: Suzy Kendall|
There's also good support from Kenneth More and James Booth - two British greats from different generations who both bring believability to their roles.
|Kenneth More knows the score and so does James Booth|
It's available on DVD from Amazon and elsewhere: definitely worth watching and being disturbed by... the image of horses in gas masks, protected from the poisonous clouds, reinforces the literal inhumanity of chemical warfare.