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VIDEO REWIND : For Classic Thrills, Dig 'Five Fingers' Out of the Trench-Coats

October 27, 1994|GEOFF BOUCHER

Halfway through the crisp 1952 cloak-and-dagger thriller "Five Fingers," a secret agent, tired of running through shadowy train stations and exotic marketplaces, cryptically tells his partner, "Nobody ever found anybody in Istanbul."

Classic spy-flick dialogue like that, a satisfyingly twisty plot and a dazzling lead performance by James Mason separates "Five Fingers" from the scores of trench-coat films that rely too much on genre gimmicks.

Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz ("All About Eve") earned an Oscar nomination for his almost documentary-style direction of this suspenseful espionage tale, which recounts the real-life exploits of an embassy valet-turned-spy during World War II.

The darkly suave Mason shines as the dissatisfied Ulysses Diello, a butler in the British Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, who uses his post to gain access to top-secret documents. His midnight deliveries of microfilm to the nearby German Embassy quickly make him a rich man, but they also make him a target of agents on both sides.

Rounding out the cast are Michael Rennie as a dashing British spy and Danielle Darrieux as the duplicitous Countess Stavinska. But Mason clearly steals the show with his polished take on Diello, a frustrated climber whose only allegiance is to greed. "There's nothing as real as money," the icy Diello tells a co-conspirator. He proves his belief in that motto by plotting to buy the love of his former employer, Stavinska, with a fortune made selling the Allies' D-Day plans.

Mankiewicz captured a realistic feel by filming on location in the streets and alleys of Turkey, but as the film's final minutes lay out two wonderful, whiplash-inducing plot twists, it is clear the spies of "Five Fingers" roam a place called Hollywood.

"Five Fingers" (1952), directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. 108 minutes. Not rated.

Orange County Video Rentals

A look at the fast-moving video rentals in four Orange County neighborhoods.

Video 98,

1235 S. Euclid St., Anaheim.

(714) 635-4031.

* Jurassic Park (MCA Universal)

* The Nightmare Before Christmas (Touchstone Home Video)

* D2 The Mighty Ducks (Walt Disney)

* On Deadly Ground (Warner)

* Blank Check (Walt Disney)

Video Empire,

14774 Jeffrey Road, Irvine.

(714) 551-2112.

* No Escape (HBO Savoy)

* Monkey Trouble (New Line)

* Clean Slate (MGM/UA)

* Sirens (Miramax)

* White Fang 2 (Walt Disney)

The Video Works,

1006 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach.

(714) 497-1727.

* Sirens (Miramax)

* The Paper (MCA Universal)

* Jurassic Park (MCA Universal)

* Bitter Moon (Columbia Tri-Star)

* Guarding Tess (Columbia Tri-Star)

The Video & Robot Center,

15452 Brookhurst, Westminster.

(714) 775-0915.

* The Paper (MCA Universal)

* Jurassic Park (MCA Universal)

* Naked Gun 33 1/3 (Paramount)

* The Nightmare Before Christmas (Touchstone Home Video)

* BackBeat (Miramax)

Compiled by Kathy Stickel

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