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Garbo The Spy

Release Year:       2009
Studio:      First Run Features
Format:      Colour & B/W; NTSC; Subtitled; Widescreen
Rated:      Not Rated
# of Discs:      1
Running Time:      93 minutes
DVD Release Date:      April 17, 2012

Screenwriters:      Maria Hervera, Isaki Lacuesta, Edmon Roch
Directors:      Edmon Roch
Actors:      Nigel West, Jose Antonio Escoriza, Aline Griffith, Juan Kreisler, Joan Pujol, Joan Miguel Pujol
DVD Features:      English, Spanish & German with English Subtitles; Interview with Intelligence & Espionage Expert Nigel West (32 minutes); Sonic Deception: WWII Training Film (27 minutes); Original Theatrical Trailer; Filmmaker Biography
E:Top Picks Rating:      9/10

First Run Features Write-up:
The Allies called him Garbo. The Nazis dubbed him Alaric. Both sides in World War II were sure Juan Pujol Garcia was their man. In reality, Pujol was a double agent – and his final allegiance was to the Allies.

From the comfort of Lisbon, Garbo fed false information to the Nazis and fabricated a network of phantom agents across Europe. Although he never fired a single shot, Garbo helped to save thousands of lives, most notably by misinforming the Germans about the timing and location of D-Day. In his inexhaustible imagination he even went so far as to secure death benefits from the Nazis for an imaginary agent’s nonexistent widow.

In this documentary thriller, director Edmon Roch artfully interweaves propaganda footage, interviews with intelligence experts and key players in Garbo’s life (as well as with Garbo himself), and clips from Hollywood films to conjure forgotten and living memories, heroes and spies, secrets and lies.

Jon Ted Wynne Review: 
I freely admit to being deeply interested in military history. I also believe WWII was undoubtedly the pivotal incident of the 20th-Century. One reason for both these opinions is that new stories about the major conflicts of the past continue to be discovered today, especially WWII. Because of this, there will likely never be a final word on the subject. Think of the treasure of untapped riches just waiting to be mined! GARBO, the story of arguably the greatest spy of the Second World War, is one of the latest examples of this theory.

Espionage fascinates. James Bond will always be there to meet the expectations of many, but the reality is far bleaker, as we know from such films as “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”. Despite this dichotomy, it has been said that “truth is stranger than fiction” and in the case of super-spy Garbo, that is certainly the case.

Joan Pujol Garcia was a young Spaniard who served in the Spanish Civil War, just prior to WWII. Trained as a poultry farmer, he had no special qualifications for becoming a spy. But during this time he developed a disdain for both communism and fascism. When the Second World War broke out, Garcia decided he wanted to become a spy for the Allied cause “for the good of humanity”. Spain was neutral during the war, so that gave Garcia a certain amount of maneuverability in terms of placing his ideological sympathies. This became crucial when he approached the British and offered his services on three separate occasions and was turned down each time. Finally, he decided to offer his services to the Nazis, with the intention of then offering his services again to the British, but as a double agent. This was a good strategy, for most double agents agreed to their duplicity when they were caught and had to be guarded to ensure they followed through on their promises. Garcia didn’t bring this baggage to the table. What he also had going for him was creativity, originality and incredible courage.

By creating an identity as a pro-Nazi Spanish diplomat, as well as arranging to have a forged diplomatic passport made, he posed as an official who frequently traveled to London on business. He then contacted a German Intelligence agent in Madrid and offered his services as a spy. He was accepted, given a crash course in espionage practices, equipped with supplies and money, and instructed to go to London to try to recruit agents for the Nazis.

Incredibly, Garcia instead based himself in Lisbon and created a false network of spies and contacts who supposedly worked for him. Using maps of London and by watching newsreels from England, he convincingly fabricated reports that completely fooled the Nazis. After considerable success giving his employers useless, false information (whenever questioned he would blame any failings on some of his fictitious colleagues) he contacted the U.S. Naval Attaché office in Lisbon just after the U.S. entered the war. His value as a spy was recognized and referred to the British who this time employed him without hesitation, after running the appropriate security checks. They had become aware that someone was feeding the Nazis important misinformation and upon realizing that it was Garcia, they willingly put him to work.

Initially given the code name Bovril (after the drink), it was suggested by an MI5 officer that in light of Garcia’s extraordinary acting skills his name be changed to Garbo, after Hollywood star Greta Garbo, who had played WWI-era spy Mata Hari a few years earlier. Undoubtedly Mata Hari’s fate (she was executed by firing squad) did not factor into the decision!

Thus established as a double agent, Garbo became a pivotal figure in one of the most important deceptions during the war. To say more about this would be to spoil the experience of seeing the film.

Admittedly the preamble I’ve given you as to Garbo’s background is rather long. This is not unlike the preamble in the film. It takes its time getting to where you will say “now THAT is interesting.” Rest assured, it is worth the wait. The revelations that follow are truly fascinating. Filmmaker Edmon Roch takes his time because he knows his story will impact greatly. Roch uses clips from Hollywood and British films, training films, and numerous interviews to tell his tale. At the centre of this great mystery is a key interview which is included in its entirety as a DVD extra (smart move). This features Intelligence and Espionage Expert Nigel West who, apart from being very knowledgeable about his subject and the pivotal player in bringing this fascinating story to light, is also an excellent speaker. The excerpts from his interview used in the film proper are just right, but this is one case where the complete interview is also compelling to watch for its own sake. (By the way, Nigel West is the pen name of Rupert Allason, a military historian and former Conservative Party Member of Parliament in the U.K.)

Without giving away the ending, one final observation needs to be made. It concerns Garbo’s reaction when walking in a cemetery in France many years after the war. His comment to Mr. West at that time is heart-breaking and provides keen insight into the humanity of the mysterious spy known as Garbo.