AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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They Came to Blow Up America
Alternate Title: School for Saboteurs
Director: Edward Ludwig (Dir)
Release Date:   7 May 1943
Production Date:   5 Dec 1942--late Dec 1942
Duration (in mins):   73
Duration (in feet):   6,586
Duration (in reels):   8
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Cast:   George Sanders (Carl Steelman)  
    Anna Sten (Frau Reiker)  
    Ward Bond (Chief Craig)  
    Dennis Hoey (Colonel Taeger)  
    Sig Ruman (Dr. Herman Baumer)  
    Ludwig Stossel (Julius Steelman)  
    Robert Barrat (Captain Kranz)  
    Poldy Dur (Helga Lorenz)  
    Ralph Byrd (Gebhardt)  
    Elsa Janssen (Mrs. Steelman)  
    Egon Brecher (Kirschner)  
    Rex Williams (Eichner)  
    Charles McGraw (Zellerbach)  
    Sven-Hugo Borg (Hauser)  
    Kurt Katch (Schonzeit)  
    Otto Reichow (Fritz)  
    Walter O. Stahl (Taeger's aide)  
    Andre Charlot (Zugholtz)  
    Arno Frey (Kranz's aide)  
    Sam Wren (Jones)  
    Etta McDaniel (Theresa)  
    Peter Michael (Gertzer)  
    Dick Hogan (Coast guardsman)  
    Lisa Golm (Saleslady)  
    Wolfgang Zilzer (Schlegel)  
    Charles Tannen (Smith)  
    Eula Guy (Anna, a nurse)  
    Lane Chandler (Reynolds)  
    Frederick Giermann (Gestapo officer)  
    William Yetter (Gestapo officer)  
    John Banner (Gestapo officer)  
    Pierre Watkin (Diplomat)  
    Forbes Murray (Diplomat)  
    Torben Meyer (Gottwald)  
    George Lynn (Herman)  
    Henry Guttman (Fiertag)  
    Sigurd Tor (Holtzfeld)  
    Walter Sande (Boatswain's mate)  
    Frederick Brunn (German soldier)  
    Albert D'Arno (German soldier)  
    Arthur Space (F. B. I. agent)  
    Bruce Warren (F. B. I. agent)  
    Hugh Prosser (F. B. I. agent)  
    John Epper (Dispatch rider)  
    Bob Stephenson (Sentry)  
    Fred Nurney (Ernst Reiker)  
    Jack Lorenz (Marine sentry)  
    Bud Geary (Policeman)  
    Fred Graham (Policeman)  
    John Mylong (German officer)  
    Ruthe Brady (Secretary)  

Summary: Carl Steelman, a German-American attorney for a mining company, is implicated in a German sabotage operation when he and seven other men are arrested shortly after arriving in a German U-Boat on the shores of New York. Following the trial of the saboteurs, Chief Craig of the F. B. I. answers a question posed by one of his men about Carl's involvement in the group by telling the story of Carl's first exposure to the German-American Bund: Despite his parents' protests, Carl, a youth, attends Bund meetings and gets into trouble with the law. Unknown to his family and the Nazi Bund leaders, however, Carl is an American agent on a top secret mission to infiltrate the higher echelons of the Nazi organization and investigate their training school for saboteurs. As part of the government's investigation of the school, Carl is given a passport belonging to a German enlisted man, Ernst Reiker, whose identity he is to assume, and is sent to Hamburg, Germany. There, Carl befriends Helga Lorenz, a Nazi operative who is suspected by the Germans of being a double agent. Given orders by the Nazis to determine Helga's loyalties, Carl soon discovers for himself that she is a double agent when he finds fake candles containing anti-Nazi propaganda in her home. Confident that Helga can be trusted, Carl confesses that he has been sent by the Nazis to spy on her and suggests that she flee before they send her to a concentration camp. Before Carl can dispose of the candles, however, Nazi agents confiscate them and Helga is immediately captured. During Helga's interrogation, she confesses to being a double agent and is ordered to do time in a detention camp. Carl cleverly saves Helga, though, by using his skills as a saboteur to sabotage the vehicle in which she is being transported. Carl then takes Helga to a boat that is waiting for them on a river and sends her to a safer place. Meanwhile, Frau Reiker, the wife of the real Reiker, causes trouble for Carl and his mission when she decides to pay a surprise visit to her husband and finds Carl in his hotel room. Though confused and angry, Frau Reiker consents to Carl's request that she give him twenty-four hours to find out what happened to her husband. Having stalled Frau Reiker, Carl rushes to his German commander, Colonel Taeger, and tells him that his wife has gone mad and that she is convinced that he is an impostor. Arguing that her delusion poses a security threat, Carl persuades the colonel to have Frau Reiker sent to a sanitarium. Meanwhile, back in America, Carl's father Julius, who never completely recovered from the shock of his son's apparent involvement with the Bund, has become seriously ill. To save Julius, the F. B. I. sends an agent to the Steelmans, and after swearing him to an oath of absolute secrecy, the agent tells Julius that his son is on a top secret mission. Julius rejoices at the news and makes a speedy recovery, but is unable to contain his excitement and pride and tells his physician, Dr. Herman Baumer, about Carl. Baumer, a Nazi sympathizer, informs on Carl, and orders are placed in Germany to have the American arrested. Carl, however, has already left Germany, and is en route to America on his first mission of sabotage. Although it is now clear to Taeger that Frau Reiker was telling the truth about Carl, Taeger kills her in her jail cell because she might expose his mistake if she is released. When the submarine on which Carl is traveling comes under attack from U.S. war planes, Carl escapes in a rubber raft and watches as the submarine explodes. After landing on American soil, Carl is arrested along with eight other saboteurs, but he is soon released when his identity is learned. Six of the eight saboteurs are tried and executed, and Dr. Baumer is exposed as a Nazi agent and is arrested. 

Production Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Distribution Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Director: Edward Ludwig (Dir)
  Thomas Z. Loring (Dial dir)
  William Eckhardt (Asst dir)
Producer: William Goetz (Vice President in Charge of Studio Operations)
  Lee Marcus (Prod)
Writer: Aubrey Wisberg (Scr)
  Michel Jacoby (Orig story)
Photography: Lucien Andriot (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: James Basevi (Art dir)
  John Ewing (Art dir)
Film Editor: Nick DeMaggio (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Thomas Little (Set dec)
  Al Orenbach (Set dec)
Costumes: N'Was McKenzie (Cost)
Music: Hugo W. Friedhofer (Mus)
  Emil Newman (Mus dir)
Sound: W. D. Flick (Sd)
  Harry M. Leonard (Sd)
Special Effects: Fred Sersen (Spec photog eff)
Country: United States

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. 7/5/1943 dd/mm/yyyy LP12416

PCA NO: 9036
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Recording

 
Genre: Drama
  Drama
Sub-Genre: World War II
  Espionage
 
Subjects (Major): Espionage
  German Americans
  Impersonation and imposture
  Nazis
  Sabotage
  Secret agents
  United States. Federal Bureau of Investigation
 
Subjects (Minor): Bombs
  Concentration camps
  Disease
  Escapes
  Explosions
  False accusations
  Fathers and sons
  Germany
  Germany. Intelligence Service
  Gestapo
  Murder
  Long Island (NY)
  Physicians
  Police
  Rescues
  Sanitariums
  World War II

Note: Working titles for this film were School for Sabotage and School for Saboteurs . Although information contained in the Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Art--Special Collections Library notes that Ben Ray Redman co-authored a 3 Aug 1942 draft of the screenplay with Michel Jacoby, Redman's contribution to the released film has not been determined. Contemporary HR news items note that Bryan Foy was originally set to produce the film, and that the Sheriff's Camp for Boys in Calabasas, CA, and the industrial sector of Compton, CA were selected as sites for location shooting. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
American Cinematographer   May 43   p. 184.
Box Office   1 May 1943.   
Daily Variety   21 Apr 43   p. 3.
Film Daily   23 Apr 43   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   6 Jul 42   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   24 Aug 42   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   23 Sep 42   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   23 Oct 42   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Dec 42   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   16 Dec 42   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   24 Dec 42   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   21 Apr 43   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   25 May 43   p. 4.
Motion Picture Herald   24 Apr 1943.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   13 Feb 43   p. 1162.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   24 Apr 43   p. 1273.
New York Times   15 May 43   p. 13.
Variety   21 Apr 43   p. 8.

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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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