The Counterfeit Traitor

1962 US
Dir: George Seaton

Str: William Holden, Lilli Palmer, Hugh Griffith

Where does this ponderous title come from?
This movie's title "The Counterfeit Traitor" is quite ponderous as a title of a movie. But this ponderous title is somewhat reflecting the overall tinge of this movie, for the movie is depicting a person who tried to gather information about the deployment of the German air force in the WWII by pretending to be a colaborator with the Nazis. Essentially he is an American, though he has changed his nationality to the Swedish. But he is allowed to be in Germany because of his status as an internationally acclaimed businessman whom the German government, even Gestapo, considers to be a very important person, and he takes advantage of this status to gather precious information. So the title comes "The Counterfeit Traitor".
The lead character of The Counterfeit Traitor is far from a heroic
Though, In 1960s, there was another movie that was depicting similar kind of person Eddie Chapman ("Triple Cross"(1966)), I think that The Counterfeit Traitor is far better than Tripple Cross. One reason for this is because, while Triple Cross is handling a very heroic person, which obviously leads the movie itself to somewhat become the one like James Bond movies minus special gadgets, the lead character of the film The Counterfeit Traitor (played by William Holden) is far from a heroic person, or rather should be called anti-heroic. For example, he unwillingly becomes involved in the spy business because he is forced to, being blackmailed by the members of British secret agency on the condition that his name shall be eliminated from a certain black list that he shouldn't be on in the first place if he cooperates with allied countries. Furthermore, the fact that he actually stopped being an American citizen even with the reason concerning his business, and naturalized as a Swedish suggests he is not so patriotic person anyway. So there is no doubt in that the movie is handling a very complex person and how he reacts to the situation according to the fluctuation of precarious circumstances in WWII Germany is the primary focus of this film, and it certainly makes this film very interesting in a character study in an unusual situation.
William Holden's situation and Lilli Palmer's one are completely
different even if they both cooperate with allied countries.
As I said before, William Holden is neither a hero, nor a person having a considerable amount of patriotic zeal. On the other hand, also Lilli Palmer cooperates with allied countries despite the fact that she is actually a German, and there would be no particular individual benefit to be gained from the cooperation. In a scene, William Holden asks her a rather pragmatic question that is likely to be given by a person like him, like why she has decided to cooperate with allied countries without any benefit on her part. Responding to this question, she gives a somewhat religious answer like she won't be able to fool the eyes of Jesus Christ or something like that. I presume that the attitudes of these two are well reflecting their internal seriousness toward the situation; William Holden is just an outsider and cannot help being an observer even if he is risking his own life, but Lilli Palmer is totally involved in the situation, and therefore can't just run away from it. Because all her identity is deeply anchored on her Heimat; i.e. Germany, even if the nation is conducting evil things against her will.
The conversion from being a total outsider to being a complete
innermost person in a harsh situation could happen thoroughly and
In another scene, Lilli Palmer tells William Holden that, for him too, such kind of moment will surely come when he comes to feel in such a way as all of the people suffering from the outrage of the Nazis has become like his own brothers. I think this remark shouldn't be regarded as just a Palmer's little bit of a divulgence of her religious notion, but should be considered to be a warning suggesting that the conversion from being a total outsider to being a complete innermost person in a harsh situation could happen thoroughly and instantanoeously even by a most tiny element no matter how far the distance between the outer and the inner seems to be, and, once it happened, all of the meaning structures of the life and the world surrounding him would totally change accordingly to such an extent as he could have never imagined before such state could ever be possible to exist. Actually, when William Holden who, by then, had been able to prowl all over Germany in spite of his American origin under the authoritative umbrella of the Gestapo jurisdiction was suddenly arrested by that Gestapo authority itself, there is no doubt in that this conversion was begining to start.
But William Holden manages to succeed in escaping from the
situation. But Lilli Palmer can't. Anyway, what a brilliant actress is
Thus, William Holden is gradually dragged into the situation where he wouldn't be able to be a mere observer. But, as far as you can see in this film, he will never ever be a complete insider. Because his endeavor to escape from the situation ensues. He actually succeeds in sneaking out of Germany with the aid of resistance members that has become dangerous country for him. Lilli Palmer, on the other hand, who doesn't have an outside she could escape to is finally executed by the hand of the Gestapo. Of course, she could have run away from Germany physically if she had tried to. But her creed as an insider never allows her to do so. This is a tragedy true to any age and any place, which outsiders of a given situation can never ever understand in full meanings. Because if someone knows the meaning of a given situation in real meaning, he would be no longer an outsider of that particular situation. The expression Lilli Palmer gives in the execution scene truely succeeds in evoking an ambivalent feeling in audience's mind mixing both her awareness of her own fragility and her firm will trying to retain her own creed to the last moment. Anyway, her performance is miraculously stunning. Though I have so far watched very few movies she is in, I have become an ardent admirer of her existance ever since I saw this movie for the first time. Even I am very disappointed with the fact that she is executed in half way through in this rather long film, making it impossible for us to appreciate this marvelous actress any further.

All articles are written by Kaminarikozou