THE MOSSAD AND ISRAELI INTELLIGENCE ON SCREEN: A FILMOGRAPHY
By Wesley Britton
"It had been six months since he had been pulled from retirement and given a simple mission. Rebuild morale in an intelligence service badly damaged by a series of highly-publicized operational blunders and personnel scandals. Restore the esprit d'corps that had characterized the office in the old days. Shamron had managed to stem the bleeding. There had been no more humiliations . . . But there had been no stunning successes either. Shamron knew better than anyone that the office had not earned its fearsome reputation by playing it safe. In the old days, it had stolen MIGs, planted spies in the palaces of its friends and its enemies, rained terror on those who dared to terrorize the people of Israel . . . he wanted to leave behind an office that could reach out and strike at will, an office that could make the other services of the world shake their heads in wonder."
(Daniel Silva, Kill Artist, 2000)
Unlike the more formal bibliographies of books and articles on Israeli intelligence posted at this website, this directory includes films and TV projects that touch on or incorporate Jewish characters in espionage plots whether directly connected to the Mossad or not. It is in three parts:
Part I lists feature films employing Israeli or Jewish characters involved in espionage.
Part II lists documentaries.
Part III discusses and analyzes television movies and episodes from series related to Israeli intelligence.
For analysis of these films, especially the changing trends of Israeli agents from Nazi hunters to counter-terrorist operatives, see my Onscreen and Undercover: The Ultimate Book of Movie Espionage (Westport, CT: Praeger Pub., 2006).
Part I: Feature Films
Ambassador, The. (1984). Robert Mitchum as an idealistic, if inattentive husband, working for peace between Israel and Arab interests. Rock Hudson was the security officer bailing Mitchum out of violence his plans result in. As his wife (Ellen Burstyn) is having an affair with a PLO leader, the Israelis have means to blackmail the ambassador and erode his credibility with various factions.
Assignment, The. (1997). Donald Sutherland was Jack Shaw/Henry Fields, A CIA agent tracking Carlos "The Jackal" (Aidan Quinn). Originally titled The Carlos Project, the movie featured Ben Kingsley as an Israeli Mossad agent, connecting worries of the Middle East with Western concerns. For some critics, this was a mere retread; for others, the film was a success as its third act didn't disintegrate into a special-effects explosion fest .
Black Sunday (1977). While no overt connections to Israel are in this violent film, clear references to the "Black September" group featured in films like Sword of Gideon and Munich are central to the script. Robert Shaw and Bruce Dern were graphic in this story about Palestinian terrorists plotting to blow up Americans at the Super Bowl. A radio promo for the film summed up the situation: "A `Black September' broadcast in Beirut. A secret intelligence meeting in Washington. A Coast Guard alert in California. An FBI stakeout in Miami. It all comes together on--Black Sunday . . . It could be tomorrow." While the box-office was disappointing, noted director John Frankenheimer was lauded for his atmospheric location shots.
Boys From Brazil, The. (1987). Back in 1968, Borman was an odd Italian movie with CIA agent Bob Gordon (Robert Kent) going to South America to find out if ex-Nazi Martin Borman is being cloned. In 1978, The Boys From Brazil, based on the Ira Levin novel, took the concept more seriously with an all-star cast distinguishing this production including Gregory Peck, Lawrence Olivier, James Mason and Lili Palmer. Playing against his usual type, Peck was ex-Nazi Joseph Mengala plotting a comeback with 90 Hitler clones. Oliver tracks him down, but isn't an agent of any government but rather an independent Nazi hunter.
Death Merchants, The. (1975). Based on Jack Stackburg’s novel, Double Agent, many issues explored in this movie were ahead of their time. An Arab terrorist organization seeks a non-existent agent code-named Herzog" in Germany. But they go after the wrong man (Jason Robards) who's a Jew who has a love affair with one of the terrorists. The film has its moments, as when Robards and his Palestinian girlfriend debate the horrors of German atrocities vs. the Israeli occupation of Palestine. But the inserted narrations that explain points that could have been incorporated into the dialogue broke the flow in a well-intentioned effort.
Eye Witness (1981). A film with quasi-espionage motifs. Connecting news stories about Jewish dissidents in Russia with tried and true romance, William Hurt played a janitor in love with a reporter (Sigourney Weaver). To interest her, Hurt pretended to know more about a murder than he really does. They ran across a rich Jew who paid a former spy to get fellow Jews out of Russia but was murdered after being blackmailed by the evil Christopher Plummer.
Firefox (1982). Director, producer, and actor Clint Eastwood
cast himself as a reluctant Vietnam War vet pulled out of retirement by a Jewish dissident spy group to save U.S. from the "Firefox," the new Soviet airplane with special radar technology. Considered as another bad example of the Red bashing Hollywood fare during the Reagan era.
Funeral In Berlin (1966). Second Michael Caine vehicle as Len Deighton's Harry
Palmer. Includes a beautiful Israeli agent (Eva Renzi) seeking money from an
ex-Nazi who'd stolen it During World War II. (See “From Harry Palmer to Austin
Powers: A Spy-ography of Michael Caine” also posted at this website.)
Half Moon Street (1986). Sigourney Weaver played Dr. Slaughter, an expert in Arab affairs doubling as a paid escort. She becomes involved with a lonely diplomat (Michael Caine) negotiating top priority matters between the Arabs and Israelis. Some felt the film deserved Oscar nominations but lackluster audience response trumped critical favor.
House on Garibaldi Street, The. (1979). Well-done quasi-documentary starring Israeli actor Topol in the story of how the Israelis captured and kidnapped former Nazi Adolf Eichmann in 1959. (See Man Who Captured Eichmann, The below.)
Jerusalem File, The (1972). set during the Arab-Israeli Six Day War, an archeologist (Bruce Davison) got caught in the cross-fire. Israeli guerillas wanted him to work for them but allowed him to work for his girlfriend (Nicole Williamson) and an Arab group hoping he'll lead them to an Arab leader.
Judas (1965). Set before the formation of Israel, Sophia Loren played the wife of a Nazi who sent her to a concentration camp. There, she joins the Jewish underground and, after the war, seeks her husband out when he becomes an advisor for Arab states.
Little Drummer Girl, The. (1982). One of the lowest regarded adaptations of a John Le Carre' book. Diane Keaton starred as a young, politically naive actress recruited by Israeli Intelligence and sent to infiltrate a Palestinian terrorist organization. Directed By George Roy Hill, the cast included Yorgo Voyagis and a cameo by novelist Le Carre'.
Mossad. (1997). Director Jonathan Tammuz's arty love story between an Mossad agent and a poetic young girl. The conflict between his work and the destruction it brings to his lover is demonstrated in paintings and music. Starred Mili Avital, Dan Turgeman, and Christine Jones.
Munich (2005). Described in detail in "Before Munich: Black September on TV and Film" article at this website.
Operation Thunderbolt (1977). While this historical event doesn't directly relate to the Mossad, most overviews of Israeli intelligence pay homage to the July 1976 IDF rescue of hijacked hostages from an Air France flight forced to land in Entebbe, Uganda. 100 Jewish hostages were saved by a force of less than 500 Israeli commandos in one of the most successful military operations in history.
Two 1977 films attempted to depict the daring mission with realism and accuracy: Operation Thunderbolt was an Israeli project starring Yehoram Gaon As Col. Yonatan Netanyahu, the only Israeli casualty of the raid. He was the older brother of Benjamin Netanyahu, the future Israeli prime minister. Reviews note the most famous of the actors, Klaus Kinski and Sybil Danning, didn't have much to do, but due to the cooperation of the Israeli military and governmental figures, details were indeed accurate if the political point-of-view was clear and blatant. It should be noted the movie was very much a product of its cinematic times, so modern viewers may see some of the camerawork as out-dated. (See Raid on Entebbebe below.)
Point Men, The. (2001). Stars Christopher Lambert as Israeli agent Tony, a hit man who thinks his team killed the wrong man and then finds terrorists are killing them off in revenge. (A take on the actual Lilihamer debacle?) An action fest but a notable step down for Bond director John Glen. Plodding--not recommended.
Prisoner in the Middle (1974, A.K.A. Warhead). Low budget fare with David Jansen and Bond girl Karin Dor looking for a stolen atomic bomb that threatens Arab/Israeli relations. Not released theatrically, the movie was possibly cobbled together from two films. The final version was released on home video in the 1980s.
Requiem for a Secret Agent (1966). In this violent and sadistic tale, a British agent (Stewart Granger) worked for his government when not moonlighting as a double-agent or adventurer. Uncovering a neo-Nazi secret organization in Morocco, he worked with Israeli intelligence and killed off the duplicitous bad girl, played by former Bond girl, Daniela Bianchi.
Walk On Water--A Film by Eytan Fox. (2004). Lior Ashkenazi stars as a Mossad hit man given the mission to track down the very old Alfred Himmelman, an ex Nazi officer. Family relationships complicate life and the mission in Israel and Germany.
Part II: Documentaries
Archives of the Mossad: Israel's Secret Hunt for Nazi War Criminals. (Direct Cinema Limited - Educational. Filmmaker: Chanoch Zeevi and Dan Setton. VHS 1998) Includes the following four titles:
• Angels of Vengeance
• The Disappearance of Martin Bormann
• The Hunt for Adolf Eichmann
• Josef Mengele: The Final Account
Archives of the Mossad: Israel's Secret Hunt for Terrorists. (For grades 7 and up.) In the same series, this 1998 two-hour boxed set includes:
• Shaheed: The Making of a Suicide Bomber
• Mikdad: Into the Mind of a Terrorist
For more information, see:
Champagne Spy, The. (2007) Documentary written and directed by Nadav Schirman in English, Hebrew, and German. For the full story including an interview with the director, see “The Bigamist Bond: The Behind-The-Scenes Story Of The Champagne Spy” also posted at this website.
Spies: Undercover Spies. (1991). Spies is a video series dedicated to the secret wars that have raged through the past decades. Through archival footage, interviews, and excerpts from unpublished memoirs and recently declassified sources, this series attempts to put a human face on the missions of secret agents from various agencies. Material from the archives of the CIA, FBI, KGB, and Mossad are used extensively. “Undercover in Damascus” profiles Elie Cohen, an Israeli spy who infiltrated and compromised the Syrian high command with disastrous results for Syria during the 1967 Six Day War. See:
WWW.Spies: Undercover Spies - Trailer - Showtimes - Cast - Movies - New York Times
Spying Game--Mossad, The. (May 09, 2005). 45 minute documentary on the history of the Mossad. On DVD.
Part III: Television Movies and Episodes
Danger Man (U.S. title, Secret Agent). “Judgment Day.” First Aired: November 11, 1965. British agent John Drake (Patrick McGoohan) is sent to an Arab country to retrieve a “package.” This turns out to be an ex-Nazi scientist who’s been discovered by an outlawed band of Israeli vigilantes out to avenge the scientist’s atrocities during World War II. Stranded on an abandoned airfield, the rogue group holds a kangaroo court where Drake tries to claim the Nazi was insane and therefore not eligible for the death penalty. But when the group learns Drake has had a message sent out for a rescue, they murder the Nazi and flee across the border back into Israel.
Typical of many Danger Man scripts, this episode explores the ethics and morality of violence in the name of a greater good. During the mock trial, Drake is caught with the dilemma of knowing his country wants the scientist for their own ends while recognizing the Nazi is a “moral imbecile,” unable to distinguish right from wrong. But he also accuses the Jews of being no better for not following legal procedures. In the end, Drake has to admit he has no answer to the problem.
Impossible Spy, The. (1987). HBO/BBC TV movie about life of Eli Cohen. Background to the film is detailed in "The Story of Israel's Most Famous Secret Agent: Behind the Scenes of The Impossible Spy" at this website.
I Spy, "CHILD OUT OF TIME." First broadcast on Jan. 11, 1967, written by Morton Fine & David Friedkin. This well-regarded episode may be of special historical interest for its early, perhaps first, use of Israeli agents on American network television.
The story was set in Madrid, Spain, revolving around a ten-year-old daughter of a former Nazi collaborator who becomes a pawn in her mother's plot to sell the names of war criminals to the highest bidder. Because of the child’s phenomenal memory, she has all the names in her head and Kelly Robinson (Robert Culp) and Alexander Scott (Bill Cosby) have to protect her as agents from both sides are on the trail. According to an e-mail from I Spy expert Marc Cushman, “The two Israeli agents are seen throughout the episode, and broke into Kelly and Scott's room and stuck guns in their ribs in an effort to get to the Nazi first. It was a race between the Israelis and the Americans, who were not working together, but were sympathetic to one another's agendas.” In the closing moments, after the Israeli assassins kill the mother, Kelly places a gun to the back of the child’s head and threatens to blow her brains out if the Israeli agents don't lower their weapons.
Several aspects of this drama are of special interest. First, in the years before Mossad agents became known for tracking down Arab terrorists, uses of such agents on film usually dealt with tracking down ex-Nazis, but network television normally had its stars uncovering the old Nazis either plotting comebacks or trying to resurrect the frozen body of Adolph Hitler (The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The New Avengers.) I Spy uniquely brought in Israeli agents and dealt with the theme of the cost of revenge, a concern not yet common in either film or small-screen broadcast. (For one exception, see Danger Man description above.)
In addition, another plot point of the hour worried both the network and viewers. One memo from NBC Broadcast Standards and Practices read: "The Broadcast Standards objection to Scott and Kelly sharing information on the locations of surviving Nazi death-camp officials with Israeli agents was based on the belief that our government would not place itself into the position of assisting another government that has used extralegal methods of bringing war criminals to justice. As discussed, I agreed that if you provide us with verification that our government would indeed permit the sharing of information under like circumstances, our objection would be withdrawn." Don R. Bay, Broadcast Standards.
A letter from one viewer read: "Dear Sirs: I am writing to protest the latest episode of your program, where two agents, presumably American, hand over information to agents of a foreign power. Such a program condones an action which is basically immoral; the agents are working to supply information to the agency that hires them, not to a foreign power. Even more basic, they are Americans, not Israeli agents. The more subtle issue of the propaganda value of the program, I will not question. Let me state, however, that this particular episode of I Spy, I found extremely offensive." Mrs. A.J.A., North Hollywood, California.
Ironically, these notes were written six months before the Six Days War, and a number of books have since claimed the CIA indeed provided Israel with information assisting their June 1967 success. While this claim remains debatable, the idea that the U.S. would share Intell to an ally being questionable prefigures these discussions by decades.
(Information for this item came from Marc Cushman and Linda J. LaRosa’s I Spy: A History and Episode Guide, 1965-1968. Jefferson, NC: Mcfareland and Co. 2007, pps. 230-231.)
Man Who Captured Eichmann, The. (1996). TV movie starring Robert Duvall and Jeffrey Tambor following the same line as The House on Garabaldi St. (See above.)
NCIS. (CBS). Beginning with the first episode of the 2005 season, Mossad Liaison Officer Ziva David joined the cast, played by Chilean born actress Cote de Pablo. In her first hour, David was assigned to the NCIS following the murder of Special Agent Caitlin Todd by a rogue Mossad operative. Soon after her assignment to NCIS, she killed a native Israeli named Ari Haswari in order to save Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon) and it is revealed afterwards that she is Ari's half-sister.
In the show, David is an expert marksman and carries two Firearms and a knife with her at all times. She frequently brags of her abilities as a Mossad agent but is annoyed to learn in the 2006-2007 season the Israelis have her under surveillance.
In a May 22, 2007 Chicago Tribune Watcher item, Pablo described her first visit to Israel, invited to come when their tourist center became aware of her role. She met “with a former Mossad agent -- one of the men who captured Nazi official Adolf Eichmann in Argentina and brought him to Israel for a trial. `How they did everything without technology -- I mean, how they smuggled Eichmann out of the country without any of that -- that's what intrigued me the most,’ she said.”
Raid on Entebbebe. (1977) American TV movie directed by Irvin Kershner, the film earned a Golden Globe. The all-star cast included Peter Finch (his last movie) as Yitzhak Rabin and Charles Bronson as Brig. Gen. Dan Shomron, leader of the commandos. (See Operation Thunderbolt for details about the historical mission re-created in this film.)
Return of the Saint, The. “Black September.” First aired on British ITV onSunday October 1, 1978. Simon Templar (Ian Ogilvy) joined forces with an Israeli agent, Captain Leila Sabin (Prunella Gee), to track down and capture an Arab terrorist on the loose in London. For more on the group that inspired this episode, see “Before Munich: Black September on TV and Film” also posted at this website.
Sword of Gideon, The. (1986). HBO production based on the George Jonas
book, Vengeance. Described in detail in "Before Munich: Black September on TV
and Film" article at this website.
For related articles, see