Hello to everyone who has been following this blog for many years - I'm still blogging, I'm just moving over to https://www.claireheffer.com/blog - please continue to follow and let me take this opportunity to thank everyone who has been kind enough to visit over the years. May the lists continue...

Sunday 13 November 2016


TRIVIA: According to Tom Hanks in a press release for the movie, when his lawyer character of James B. Donovan makes arguments to the Supreme Court about Rudolf Ivanovich Abel, the actual words used in the dialogue for this movie were the same as the arguments presented to the US Supreme Court.

Rudolf Ivanovich Abel's seemingly incongruous accent, as voiced and acted by actor Mark Rylance, was actually accurate. Abel was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Russian parents and spent some of his school age years in Scotland. He returned to Moscow in his late teens but never lost his accent when speaking English.

As seen in the film, Soviet agent Rudolf Ivanovich Abel received coded messages from his KGB handlers that were hidden inside a hollow U.S. nickel. The FBI first became aware of Abel's activities in 1953, when a Soviet agent mistakenly used one of the hollow nickels to buy a newspaper. The Brooklyn newsboy who had received the nickel thought it felt too light. He dropped the nickel on the sidewalk, and it popped open, revealing a piece of microfilm with a coded message inside. But FBI cryptologists were unable to crack the code until 1957, when a KGB defector, Reino Häyhänen, gave them the key to deciphering the code, and also gave up Rudolph Abel. The "Hollow Nickel Case" was also dramatized in The FBI Story (1959), starring James Stewart.

According to Steven Spielberg in a press release for the movie, Gregory Peck came after the story in 1965. Alec Guinness agreed to play Rudolf Ivanovich Abel, Peck would play James B. Donovan, and Stirling Silliphant would write the script. MGM declined to make the movie at the time. It was 1965, Cold War tensions were high, and MGM was reluctant to get into the politics of the story.

For the scene outside the courtroom, the photographers were initially instructed to put their used flashbulbs, which are extremely hot to the touch, in their pockets. One of the background actors on set happened to be the historian of the New York Press Photographers Association. He told executive producer and 1st assistant director Adam Somner that, at the time, photographers would have ejected the bulbs onto the floor. After several takes, noticing the bulbs strewn across the floor, director Steven Spielberg decided to shoot the low-angle view of the principals walking through them.

The Russian phrase "stoikiy muzhik" literally translates to "persistent peasant" - "stoikiy" being a term meaning persistent, rigid, or uncompromising, and "muzhik" being a slang term for a Russian peasant. Abel's translation of the phrase as "standing man" is therefore appropriate on a metaphorical level.

In an interview with the International Spy Museum, the son of Francis Gary Powers, Francis Gary Powers Jr., indicated that his father was not told to commit suicide if shot down, unlike the depiction in the movie. Instead, it was given as an option in case physical torture had been involved, allowing the pilots to use a poison pin if the pilots chose to commit suicide. He also indicated that the Soviets found the pin on a third strip search but Powers warned them not to touch it; the Soviets tried the pin on a dog and the dog died a few moments later.

Steven Spielberg cast Mark Rylance in the movie after watching his Tony Award-winning performance in Twelfth Night which was Rylance's third Tony Award.

Fourth theatrical feature film collaboration of actor Tom Hanks and director Steven Spielberg with the two performing those duties. They pair previously worked together on [in chronological order]: Saving Private Ryan (1998), Catch Me If You Can (2002), and The Terminal (2004).

At the beginning of the film, Rudolf Ivanovich Abel is painting a self-portrait, the scene is based on Norman Rockwell's "Triple Self-portrait". Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are both big collectors of Rockwell's work.

The subway car that Donovan is riding on his way home is the only remaining N.Y.C. Transit R11 subway car that was part of an order of 10 built in 1949. It was called the "million dollar train" as each of the 10 cars cost over $100,000. The interior seen in the film is from a 1964/65 rebuild of the car , not the one it had when the story took place in 1961.

When London-based playwright and television writer Matt Charman stumbled upon a footnote in a biography on John F. Kennedy that referenced an American lawyer whom the President had sent to Cuba to negotiate the release of 1113 prisoners, his curiosity was piqued. Some quick research yielded a name he did not recognize, that of James Donovan, a successful insurance claims lawyer from Brooklyn. But it was the story of what took place several years earlier which he found most interesting. Donovan had defended a Soviet agent accused of espionage during the Cold War, and while he specialized in insurance law and had not practiced criminal law for some time, was then asked to negotiate one of the most high-profile prisoner exchanges in history. Charman had little knowledge of the inner-workings of the film industry. Nevertheless, he flew to Hollywood in hopes of convincing a studio to green-light a film based on Donovan's remarkable true story. While Donovan's role was not well known in the annals of Cold War history, Charman pitched DreamWorks Pictures a gripping tale of an idealistic man navigating the world of national security and subterfuge. The executives at DreamWorks were immediately intrigued. "When I heard the story, it knocked my socks off," says producer Kristie Macosko Krieger, who was a co-producer on Steven Spielberg's Lincoln (2012) and is based at DreamWorks. Krieger said: "Not many people know the story of James Donovan and what he accomplished during this period of U.S. history, but it sounded like something that was right up Steven's alley."

Rudolf Ivanovich Abel, whose real name was Vilyam Fisher, passed away in 1971, and was rarely photographed or interviewed while alive. According to actor Mark Rylance who portrays Abel in the film: "We don't really know all that much about him, other than the fact that he received and passed on messages at various drop sites throughout New York using a hollow coin. He was, what you call, a sleeper spy. Abel had been in the United States for several years before he began these clandestine activities, and he wasn't the chief organizer of the spy-ring, he just carried out the mission. But when he was caught, the U.S. government made him out to be a little more important than he actually was."

Actress Amy Ryan and actor Domenick Lombardozzi both appeared in HBO's The Wire (2002).


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