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“The Spy Behind Home Plate” Baseball and Patriotism

 

 

 

 

 

Review by John Delia

Being released this weekend is The Spy Behind Home Plate a documentary about Morris Moe Berg a baseball player and a patriot. This film is not only a true account of the man who was instrumental in aiding America in WWII, but Director and writer Aviva Kempner includes a copious amount of information that will amaze and personify the man.

Providing a vison of the late 1800’s to the late 1930’s the first half of the movie provides a lot of nostalgia while presenting the biography of Berg showing historic America with the help of amazing archival film footage, photos and interviews by the people closest to the man and from those who followed his baseball career. It covers his life from childhood to formal education with comments by many close friends, his brother, sister and relatives.

Morris “Moe” Berg THE SPY BEHIND HOME PLATE

Then late in the movie the film melds into Moe’s possible intentions of becoming, or maybe even have been recruited, as a spy for the America’s Office of Strategic Services (OSS). The OSS was in operation in the late 1930’s at a time when Europe was being slowly taken over by Germany and just before the declaration of war in that part of the world. (The OSS would later become the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as we know it today.) Having been very secretive about his involvement with the government agency, his work would become a valuable asset to the war. His method was a Bell and Howell movie camera used to record his trips throughout the world.

Director and writer Aviva Kempner shows how Moe began working as a spy. She reaches deep down into files from the OSS and the CIA Museum to take you back in time and ready you for one of the most amazing stories ever told. Using witnesses, friends, journalists, family and newspaper/TV/newsreel accounts she brings forward their memories, writings, telegrams, film and other documents that indicate Moe’s involvement and bravery beyond just an innocent bystander. His most dangerous and heroic challenge involved the Atomic Bomb that Hitler had commissioned to assure his rule of Europe and beyond those shores.

Morris “Moe” Berg THE SPY BEHIND HOME PLATE

The first half of the film alone is worth the watch of The Spy Behind Home Plate. I became totally engrossed in the archival film footage of Europe as Moe’s ancestors are shown from old photos presented by his family members. Then delving even deeper into the archives we get many snippets of the late 1800’s then early 1900’s America in places like New York City, New Jersey and baseball stadiums where Moe played. It’s an awesome presentation showing the old cars, fashions, stores and much more.

His baseball career was documented heavily showing some of the most famous players in the game including Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Infused within his life as a baseball player, we find out how he learned many languages and attended major colleges. He was well liked by his fellow ball players and the many comments by baseball historians and the like brings out his amazing ability behind the plate as a noted catcher in the leagues.

As a side note, in 2018 the film The Catcher Was a Spy was released on home video. The biography was based on the “true story” of baseball great Morris “Moe” Berg and featured mainly his involvement with the Federal Government and the OSS. It was a taut drama and the actors showed how Berg came in contact with Hitler’s top Physicist Werner Heisenberg. The film starred Paul Rudd as Berg and Mark Strong as Heisenberg. If you are looking for a more dramatic piece on Berg, you may want to check that film out.

The Spy Behind Home Plate however, far outweighs the The Catcher Was a Spy in the presentation of Berg’s real life story. The film has not been rated by the MPAA and contains very little censorious material.

FINAL ANALYSIS: A very good film that had me wanting more. (4 out of 5 Stars)

Additional Film Information:
Cast: Bruce Adams, Ira Berkow, Brad Ausmus, Stan Bernard, Jonathan Blank, Jochen Heisenberg
Directed and written by: Aviva Kempner
Genre: Documentary
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 1 hr. 41 min.
Opening Date: June 21, 2019
Distributed by: A Ciesla Foundation Release
Released in: Standard

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