Monday, January 07, 2019

How to Operate Behind Enemy Lines (1943)

Everyone has had to see an instructional video at some point in their lives.  It might have been for work.  (I think there’s an old Blockbuster video floating around Facebook.)  Maybe it was in school for your health or phys. ed. class.  Even the United States Government made a few.

Back before we had the CIA, there was the OSS, which stood for Office of Strategic Services.  They were the agency that sent spies out into the field.  Before you could become an undercover asset, you might have had to watch this film.

It’s pretty basic in every regard.  It shows two students as they’re being deployed into the field.  Student Al is the better student.  Al follows all the rules and pays attention to detail.  His cover story isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough that a changed detail or two is enough.  Student Charles is less than perfect.  He knows his stuff, but is too confident.  He’d rather be hitting on the pretty barmaids than doing his job.

The movie also shows other spies, like one who tries to use outdated currency.  Another spy is caught when he uses hair grease that’s nearly impossible to come by.  It’s not meant to impart all of the important information.  Rather, it’s meant to give a brief review.  It might help a future spy make sense of their training.

There appear to be two different versions of the movie.  One was called How to Operate Behind Enemy Lines.  It was subsequently edited into Undercover, which might also be called Undercover:  How to Operate Behind Enemy Lines.  I’m not entirely certain what the difference is.  (I think it’s that Undercover is framed by an introduction and an end scene.)

I don’t think that this will be making any general-interest must-see lists.  I think it’s going to be limited to students taking classes and former OSS spies showing their kids or grandkids what they did for a living.  The fact that it’s public domain will make it easy to come by.  I found it on Netflix, although I imagine you could find several thousand copies on YouTube.  The fact that it was once classified means that the information is probably no longer totally relevant.  I’m sure that a current video would be a lot better and go more in depth.

(Note:  I'm not entirely certain which version Netflix has.  Since they list the year as 1943, I'm going with How to Operate Behind Enemy Lines.)

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