AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Alternate Title: Puzzle Man
Director: William K. Howard (Dir)
Release Date:   25 Oct 1935
Production Date:   24 Jun--29 Jul 1935; and 6 Sep--26 Sep 1935.
Duration (in mins):   91 or 94-96
Duration (in reels):   10
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Cast:   William Powell ([Lieutenant] Bill Gordon)  
    Rosalind Russell (Joel [Carter])  
    Binnie Barnes (Olivia)  
    Lionel Atwill ([Major] William Brennan)  
    Cesar Romero ([Colonel] Nieterstein)  
    Samuel S. Hinds ([John] Carter)  
    Henry Stephenson (Ambassador)  
    Frank Reicher (Dr. [R. A.] Jackson)  
    Charley Grapewin (Martin)  
    Leonard Mudie (Roberts)  
    Howard Hickman (G-man)  
    Charles Trowbridge (Secretary of War [Baker])  
    Murray Kinnell (de Segroff)  
    Sterling Holloway (Taxi driver)  
    Mickey Rooney (Country boy)  
    Charles Wilson (Editor)  
    Melville Cooper (Doorman)  
    Bert Morehouse (2nd lieutenant)  
    Blair Davies (Sentry)  
    Cyril Ring (Orderly)  
    Rollo Dix (Orderly)  
    Earl Eby (G Man)  
    Bob Perry (G Man)  
    Henry Mowbray (Diplomat)  
    Mary Forbes (Lady Cavendish)  
    Lowden Adams (Butler)  
    Eric Wilton (Kesterman)  
    Winter Hall (Chaplain)  
    Sherry Hall (Private Dean)  
    John Arthur (Wizened man)  
    Leonid Snegoff (Kaieneff)  
    Jack Hatfield (Drug store clerk)  
    William Stack (Head waiter)  
    Richard Powell (Taxi driver)  
    Samuel R. McDaniel (Porter)  
    James P. Burtis (Private)  
    James Flavin (Military police)  
    Arno Frey (Army officer)  
    Al Bridge (Sergeant)  
    Jeanie Roberts (Secretary to Burns)  
    Bernadene Hayes (Bobbie Burns)  
    Harry "Zoop" Welsh (Barber)  
    Morgan Wallace (Gardner)  
    Monty Vandegrift (Sailor)  
    Rudolph Amendt (Radio operator)  
    Sam Ash (Mexican)  
    Sidney Bracy (Doctor's assistant)  
    Frank Lackteen (Customs officer)  
    Charles Coleman (Doorman)  
    Wally Maher (Reporter)  
    Harry C. Bradley (Cashier)  
    Lee Kohlmar (Tailor)  
    Tom Dugan (Recruiting officer)  
    Guy Usher (Ship's captain)  

Summary: The sinking of a United States warship in the Atlantic in 1914 by a German submarine prompts Washington to take special measures to insure that the Germans are kept ignorant of the exact location of Navy vessels sailing the Atlantic. A high-level military meeting results in an agreement to create a convoy system, whereby British destroyers will meet U. S. troop ships at a secret rendezvous location in the Atlantic and escort them safely to the French coast. The plan hinges on a new strategy in which the exact location of the rendezvous will be transmitted at the very last moment to the ships by a wireless code. Major William Brennan, a military cryptologist with three years' experience on the European front, provides the War Department with the new code, which is to be tested on a munitions ship rendezvous before it is used for a troop ship. Meanwhile, at the nearby Park Hotel, the German intelligence headquarters buzzes with espionage acitivity. Bill Gordon, a former newspaperman and author of an invaluable book on military codes, is about to leave for Europe, where he plans to serve his country on the battlefront, when he becomes romantically involved with socialite Joel Carter. The meddling Joel falls in love with the lieutenant and, upon discovery of his expertise in cryptology, arranges to have him transferred to a desk job at the War Department through her uncle, John Carter, who is the Assistant Secretary of War. For Bill, Joel throws over suitor Colonel Nieterstein, who, unknown to her, is loyal to his German fatherland and reads top secret military information over the phone to Dr. R. A. Jackson, a contact in San Diego. One such message alerts the spies as to the exact bearings of a mid-sea Navy rendezvous scheduled for the next day. Aware of the War Department's trial run, Nieterstein advises the Germans not to pursue the munitions-carrying S. S. Dependable , but to wait instead for a bigger pay-off, a troop ship. Bill protests his reassignment to a desk job, but quickly proves his worth when he cracks the German code and learns that the enemy has decoded the Americans' new code and knows about the S. S. Dependable . The military has three days in which to either find the code thieves and retrieve the code, or intercept all future German spy communications. When Brennan suspects that his mistress, Olivia, is an undercover enemy agent, he sets a trap for her, and she falls for it. Fearing for her safety, Olivia kills Brennan but, after reporting the incident to her superiors, is told to sacrifice herself to Army investigators to prevent trouble for Germany. Olivia complies with the order and is captured by Bill, who calls her bluff at a restaurant with a phony deciphered message he says he found in her mailbox. Olivia is about to confess when Joel and Nieterstein show up at their table and interrupt her. Having been slipped a message by another German agent, which says that Nieterstien is to be sacrificed to the U. S. Army in order to give the false impression that it is once again safe to send their ships coded messages, Olivia provides Bill with evidence of Nieterstein's complicity in the espionage ring. Upon his arrest, Nieterstien commits suicide. Bill and Olivia go to the Park Hotel and are followed by the jealous Joel, who is taken hostage by members of the German intelligence network. The agents use Joel as a bargaining tool to force Bill, who has also been captured, to decode the latest rendezvous location. Bill translates the code and is then granted a private meeting with Joel, which is interrupted by a spray of bullets from a machine gun. Bill and Joel manage to escape death and overpower their would-be assassins just as Department of Justice agents arrive. The authorities, having been tipped off by Bill's encoded message, arrest the spies and send orders to arrest Dr. Jackson in San Diego. As promised by Carter, Bill is granted permission to fight in Europe, but just as his train is about to leave, his reassignment to a local desk job arrives. 

Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp. (Loew's Inc.)
Distribution Company: Loew's Inc.  
Director: William K. Howard (Dir)
  Sam Wood (Dir)
  Dolph Zimmer (Asst dir)
Producer: Lawrence Weingarten (Prod)
Writer: P. J. Wolfson (Scr)
  George Oppenheimer (Scr)
  Bella Spewack (Adpt)
  Samuel Spewack (Adpt)
  E. A. Dupont (Contr wrt)
  Horace McCoy (Contr wrt)
  Herman Mankiewicz (Contr wrt)
  Howard Emmett Rogers (Contr wrt)
Photography: William Daniels (Photog)
  James Wong Howe (Photog)
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons (Art dir)
  Joseph Wright (Art dir assoc)
  Edwin B. Willis (Art dir assoc)
Film Editor: Hugh Wynn (Film ed)
Costumes: Dolly Tree (Ward)
Music: Dr. William Axt (Mus score)
Sound: Douglas Shearer (Rec dir)
Country: United States

Source Text: Based on the book The American Black Chamber by Major Herbert O. Yardley (Indianapolis, 1931).
Authors: Major Herbert O. Yardley

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number Passed By NBR:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp. 23/10/1935 dd/mm/yyyy LP5915 Yes

PCA NO: 1656
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Sound System

Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Espionage
Subjects (Major): Espionage
  German Americans
  Secret codes
  Secret Service
  United States. War Department
  World War I
Subjects (Minor): Blackmail
  San Diego (CA)
  Women's suffrage

Note: Working titles for this film were Blonde Countess , White Bird , Puzzle Man and The Black Chamber . According to contemporary sources, Herbert O. Yardley, the author of the book on which the film was based, was head of the United States Secret Service during World War I. Rendezvous marked Rosalind Russell's first star billing in a film. HR pre-production news items indicate that the picture was originally intended as a William Powell--Myrna Loy vehicle, and that A. E. Dupont, who aided producer Lawrence Weingarten on the script, was named as a possible director. The extent of Dupont's participation on the film has not been determined. While HR production charts and pre-release news items list actors Alan Cavan, Lee Phelps, Zita Johann, Hedwiga Reicher (actor Frank Reicher's sister), Belle Mitchell, Jerry Mandy, Haila Stoddard and Walter King (formerly known on Broadway as Walter Woolf) in the cast, their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. Jul and Aug 1935 HR news items note that production on the film was suspended due to actress Binnie Barnes' bout with apendicitis. A day after it erroneously reported that M-G-M had decided to re-write and re-shoot the entire picture, HR , on 24 Aug 1935, clarified the matter by printing a letter written by director William K. Howard, who denied the implication that the studio was dissatisfied with Barnes's work. He wrote that "M-G-M is trying to decide on a very effictive last act for the picture...which will exploit the talents of Miss Rosalind Russell." The director conceded that from the start the production "never had a satisfactory ending," and that they were awaiting the results of preview audience reactions to a better ending. Howard also wrote that he was leaving the production because he had taken an assignment on a Walter Wanger film. Sam Wood then took over the direction of the film and Herman Mankiewicz and Howard Emmett Rogers were assigned to the script. James Wong Howe replaced William Daniels as the photographer. HR also noted that George Kaufman was to sit in on some of the story meetings, and that some seventeen new sets would be constructed for the second round of filming.
       Although onscreen credits list Lionel Atwill's character as "William Brennan," his spoken name in the film is "Charles." Also, while most contemporary sources list Cesar Romero's character as "Nickolajeff," the film credits and dialogue refer to him as "Nieterstein." The Var review erroneously refers to actor Cesar Romero as Hugh Romero. The released film was cut from its preview length of 106 minutes. Modern sources indicate that the casting of Rosalind Russell as William Powell's co-star, instead of his usual teaming with star Myrna Loy, was due in part to Loy's absence from M-G-M during her strike for better pay. Rendezous was remade by M-G-M in 1942 as Pacific Rendezvous , directed by George Sidney and starring Jean Rogers and Mona Harris. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Daily Variety   23 Oct 35   p. 3.
Film Daily   23 Oct 35   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   27 Mar 35   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   30 Mar 35   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   17 May 35   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   5 Jun 35   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   18 Jun 35   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   19 Jun 35   p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter   22 Jun 35   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   24 Jun 35   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   26 Jun 35   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   2 Jul 35   p. 22.
Hollywood Reporter   25 Jul 35   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   30 Jul 35   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Aug 35   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   23 Aug 35   p. 1, 6
Hollywood Reporter   24 Aug 35   p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Sep 35   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   9 Sep 35   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   23 Sep 35   p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter   25 Sep 35   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   23 Oct 35   p. 3.
Motion Picture Daily   26 Oct 35   p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald   19 Oct 35   p. 90.
Motion Picture Herald   9 Nov 35   p. 64.
New York Times   26 Oct 35   p. 12.
Variety   30 Oct 35   p. 14.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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