Synopsis by Michael P. Rogers
Yes, there are commies under the bed. But are there Nazis there too? Emily Crane (Kelly McGillis) is a modestly successful Life photo editor living in 1950s New York, until she is called before the Senate Un-American Activities Committee to testify about her "communist" associations. When she refuses to divulge the names of friends in her civil liberties group, she loses her employment and her friends. In desperation, she takes a job reading books for Miss Venable, a somewhat crotchety lady (Jessica Tandy) who lives in a quiet residential neighborhood. Then, while taking a break in Miss Venable's back yard, Emily overhears something from the house behind that compels her to investigate and leads her eventually to conclude that it is the headquarters of a group smuggling in ex-Nazi scientists for some mysterious purpose. Meanwhile, she is being harassed by two FBI men, on behalf of the Senate Committee, as well as by a sinister, McCarthyite, Senate investigator named Salwen (Mandy Patinkin). One of the FBI men, Cochran (Jeff Daniels), takes a liking to Emily and humors her by agreeing to investigate her suspicions. This quiet mystery is a nostalgia piece. It's '50s backgrounds are authentic and the plot device -- an innocent becoming entangled in an unbelievable conspiracy -- is closer to one of Hitchcock's masterpieces of that period (e.g., North by Northwest) than to Reservoir Dogs or Speed. The people seem to be from a simpler time, too, when the distinction between good and evil was clearer. Emily shines with idealistic integrity and the naive Cochran is so honest that he finds it impossible to deceive the target of his investigation. There is even a terrifying, "acrophobe's nightmare" scene played out in a dome high above Grand Central Station. For those tired of endless shoot-em-ups and car chases, this is the mystery to choose.
conspiracy, FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), McCarthyism, Nazi, scientist