Hosed

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I saw a bit of this film once playing on a TV in a bar in the mid-afternoon, and I was amazed. Had no idea what it was, though I recognized Jack Hawkins and was surprised to see him dressed as a Nazi. But I was FAR more surprised by what happened next…

This piece might need a trigger warning if you’ve ever been inflated to bursting point with a fire hose. In fact, if that has happened to you, don’t read that last sentence.

Eventually I worked out that the film was Andre De Toth’s THE TWO-HEADED SPY (1958), and even eventuallier I watched it.Hawkins plays a double agent, General Alex Scotland, installed on Hitler’s staff and sabotaging his supply lines to help end the war. The scene I had goggled at occurs when Felix Aylmer, Hawkins’ contact with the allies, is arrested by nasty Nazi Alexander Knox, and tortured.

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There’s the whipping, of course — rather more of it than we’re used to seeing in a film of this kind. But then Knox gets carried away and —

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In the words of Edward Gorey, “there was a wet sort of explosion, audible for several miles.”

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Yes. De Toth has just killed a character by having him anally penetrated with a fire hose, and then inflated until bursting point. You can see why I was surprised at seeing this on Channel 4 in the middle of the afternoon.

Of course, De Toth was a tough old nut. He broke his neck twice (once may be considered bad luck…), he lost an eye (nobody seems to know where), he worked as a second unit director for David Lean and a producer for Ken Russell. Nobody’s idea of a pushover. And he once tried, basically, to decapitate his leading man with a guillotine while making HOUSE OF WAX. But this is still an astonishingly horrible and grotesque scene. How it got past the censors in days when you couldn’t even show a toilet in an American movie is beyond me.

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“Well, it was worth a try, right?”

The film is apparently based on the memories of General Alex Scotland, but the facts seem extremely murky. Elsewhere, Scotland more or less denied ever having been on the German side during the war — he was certainly running an interrogation centre near London for captured Germans during the latter years of the conflict, not in the bunker with Adolf as shown here. Intriguingly and grimly, that centre was rumoured to be a hotbed of torture, leaving open the suspicion that the methods depicted may have been deployed for real, but by our side. In his Wikipedia page, Scotland is quoted as saying that high command asked him deliberately NOT to scotch false rumours about his being planted in Nazi Germany, for reasons he was never apprised of. I think it’s likelier that he was simply trying to make a profit from his war service any way he could, especially after the government tried to stop him publishing his memoirs under the Official Secrets Act.

The film isn’t one of De Toth’s best. Gia Scala is wheeled in as romantic interest, but Hawkins isn’t allowed to have close relationships with any of the people he’s betraying, which makes him a rather isolated, distant figure. Characters mostly thrive on relationships, and he has none.

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Hitler is always kept just off-screen, at one point occluded by a large globe, in an amusing nod to Chaplin. He’s played with Welsh fervour by Kenneth Griffith, which would have been hilarious if we’d gotten to see him. Most enjoyable actor is Donald Pleasence, who portrays his high-ranked Nazi big shit shot’s nervous strain by having him puff continuously at a cigarette kept one inch from his lips at all times. Had Pleasence ever had a chance to observe Fritz Lang’s smoking technique? The resemblance is uncanny.

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12 Responses to “Hosed”

  1. Now I MUST see this movie (it had never occurred to me that my life was not complete until I’d seen a supporting player anally firehosed to bursting, but there it is. That’s something I learned about myself today).

  2. Yeah, the Gia Scala romantic aspect was like a huge spring sticking out of the sofa in this film.

  3. And the sofa is also missing three castors and an arm. And it is a dishonest sofa.

  4. I highly recommend De Toth’s Play Dirty

    And so does Marty Scorsese

  5. Nice use of Edward Gorey there.

  6. I think this might be the same Bunker as the one that was situated in Kensington Palace Gardens during World War Two. The same Kensington Palace Gardens that is now the home to some of the most expensive property in the world. As far as I recall, the building that housed the infamous Bunker was torn down sometimes after the end of the conflict.

  7. Actually. I just checked. It was known as the London Cage. Wikipedia: ‘No 8 [Kensington Palace Gardens] was used as an interrogation centre for German POWs during and after World War II and was known as the London Cage. The house was demolished in 1961 and replaced by a glass-and-steel block of four apartments designed by Richard Seifert and completed in 1964.

  8. Yes, Scotland was in charge of the London Cage, and that’s the name of the memoir he had so much trouble publishing too. How he managed to run that while simultaneously sitting on Hitler’s general staff right up until the fall of Berlin is a bit of a mystery. To which the answer is surely, “He didn’t.”

    Play Dirty is fantastic, with one of the best endings ever. I once stole that ending for a script that never got made, although ours was set in 17th Century Scotland.

  9. The Hawkins character does have a relationship – with his control played by Aylmer whom he reminisces about missing England and walking into an English pub where he is walking to at the end of the film. He is a very lonely character and when Aylmer goes, Scala can not fill the void. I believe the reason the scene remained was that it was shot in England at a time when WW2 movies were very popular. I f you look very closely you’ll see Michael Caine as a Gestapo man and isn’t that Antony Valentine to the left of Hawkins in the image above?

  10. Yes, but what I meant was that Hawkins has no relationships with the people he is betraying. The more interesting moves about double agents and undercover men show the bonds they form with their targets and how they become emotionally torn at times because what they are doing is, in a sense, dishonorable. Of course. it’s hard to sympathise with Hitler unless you’re Lars Von Trier (joke!) so that wouldn’t be an easy angle to pursue, especially at that time.

  11. A U rating! We were far more lenient than other markets, it seems:
    from IMDB: Certification:
    Finland:K-16 / Sweden:15 / UK:U / West Germany:18

  12. I think the Germans had the right idea. In the classification, I mean, not in the war. Obviously.

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