Tag Archives: Moe Berg

Suicide Squeeze

The Spy Behind Home Plate

by George Wolf

Two movies about Moe Berg in the last twelve months? What gives?

And who’s Moe Berg?

Decades before Austin Powers, Morris “Moe” Berg was an international man of mystery. A 15 year veteran of the Major Leagues, Berg was also a Princeton grad, a voracious reader with a photographic memory who clung to his privacy. He was a lawyer, a quiz show champion and an international spy who was once dispatched on a WWII kamikaze mission to assassinate the head of Germany’s nuclear research program.

Astounding stuff from a guy who, according to baseball legend Casey Stengel, “Could speak seven languages, but couldn’t hit in any of them!”

Just last summer, Paul Rudd played Berg in the enjoyable but underseen The Catcher Was a Spy. Now, documentarian Aviva Kempner brings a no-frills, uber-informative approach to uncovering the real Berg with The Spy Behind Home Plate.

Kempner (Rosenwald, The Life and Times of Hank Grennberg) unveils a succession of talking heads joined by wonderful archival stills and videos. Perhaps to mirror her subject, Aviva’s film is short on style, but it’s substance is extra innings worthy.

As unbelievable as Berg’s story is, the dry presentation doesn’t do much to entice the casually interested. But if you find these undertold slices of history fascinating, you’ll be hooked enough to want to seek out Rudd’s version next.

Take Me Out to the Spy Game

The Catcher Was a Spy

by George Wolf

The Catcher Was a Spy features a surprisingly impressive lead performance from Paul Rudd. It’s not his talent that surprises, but rather the role as enigmatic baseball player turned wartime spy.

This isn’t what we’ve come to expect from the always welcome Rudd, which makes him that much more appealing for branching out.

Dammit, Rudd, you likable rogue!

He stars as true life legend Moe Berg, who spent fifteen years as a Major Leaguer in the years before WWII. Though never a superstar, he was a well-respected and durable catcher with many other talents that proved useful.

A Princeton grad with multiple degrees, Berg spoke several languages and was fiercely private. With his playing career over and a war raging, Berg’s intellect, discretion and communication skills were valued at the O.S.S., where he was trained as a spy and tasked with assassinating the German physicist (Mark Strong) getting dangerously close to developing a nuclear bomb.

Woah.

Director Ben Lewin (The Sessions) fills his throwback yarn with the requisite newsreel voiceovers and shadowy set pieces for a satisfactory spy thriller, but makes more of a mark through the intimate workings of Rudd and the supporting cast.

We’re told Berg is an enigma, but Rudd makes us feel it. From his blunt honesty to his sexual history, Berg’s nature always seems a bit out of step with the crowd, and Rudd provides the humanity to get us on his side while he stokes our curiosity.

Supporting players, including Jeff Daniels, Sienna Miller, Paul Giamatti and Guy Pearce, are equally strong, cementing the relationships that elevate the adapted script from writer Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan).

As a spy drama, The Catcher remains¬†fairly routine. Its power comes from its intimacy, getting just close enough to a mysterious, fascinating figure without disrespecting that figure’s commitment to mystery.