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9.9.2011

For Eyes Only

Hansen works as an undercover agent for the GDR at a secret service HQ, disguised as a commercial enterprise, that is run by the US army in Würzburg. He has already blown the cover of several American spies with the result that his boss has to take serious measures to stop the leak in his own ranks. Increasingly Hansen comes into his sights, yet he succeeds in passing a lie-detector test with flying colours and so manages to give himself enough time to score a big coup.

Still from the movie "For Eyes Only". (© Karl Plintzner, DEFA-Studio für Spielfilme 1963, DEFA-Stiftung 1999.)


Hansen is a double agent for the East German (GDR) secret service, the Stasi (Staatssicherheitsdienst). The Ministry for State Security (MfS) has infiltrated him into the US military's secret service (MID, Military Intelligence Department) headquarters in Würzburg, West Germany, where the Americans have accepted his cover story that he's a defector. Hansen exploits the trust he's won to carry out his mission, which is to get hold of some highly damaging western documents outlining a planned NATO attack on East Germany and smuggle them back home. Using all the tricks, careful calculation and all the sophisticated espionage tools at his disposal, he pursues his plan. But suddenly his boss, Major Collins, begins to think there's something wrong. He suspects there's a leak in his ranks and interrogates Hansen. Hansen succeeds in diverting Collins' suspicions by unmasking a spy from the West German secret service, the BND. Once he has cleared all other obstacles from his path, Hansen loads his car with the documents, in a safe disguised as a fridge. But his escape plan goes wrong and his attempt to cross the border turns in to an action-packed showdown.

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About the Movie

For Eyes Only

Original Title: For Eyes Only - Streng geheim
GDR 1963, 103 min., subtitles

Director: János Veiczi
Cast: Alfred Müller, Helmut Schreiber, Ivan Palec et al.
In For Eyes Only, the state-run GDR film studios (DEFA – Deutsche Film Aktiengesellschaft) put its own spy hero on the screen in July 1963, six months after the premiere of the first James Bond film in West Germany. The screenplay is based on real events from 1956, when the GDR secret service pulled off a successful coup in the Federal Republic. In "Operation Punch", Horst Hesse (cover name Horst Berger), – a secret agent run by the MfS – stole a safe full of top secret documents from the American military intelligence headquarters in West Germany and smuggled it back to the East. The opening credits of For Eyes Only make mention of the case in the disclaimer: "The action in this film is completely fictitious – any resemblance to actual events and living people is intentional".

For Eyes Only appeared six years after these events, at the height of the Cold War, and a year after the building of the Berlin Wall (13th August 1961), with which the GDR sealed itself off from the West. Just over a year after that, the USA and USSR stood on the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The film was made at the DEFA studios in the Potsdam suburb of Babelsberg. Film-making in the GDR was state-controlled and every screenplay had to be submitted to the censors "for inspection and approval" before shooting could begin. The building of the Wall did allow film makers to take advantage of a new policy giving them more freedom, but the party functionaries at DEFA still had the last word. The subject matter of For Eyes Only certainly met the criteria of socialist film policy: a film that laid bare weaknesses in the Western secret services and held up a Stasi spy as a hero, could and should have a positive impact on public opinion. The most devastating move on this propaganda chessboard is the discovery of the NATO attack plan, which legitimises the theft of the documents. In reality, the safe stolen by Horst Hesse in 1956 contained documents relating to the identities of 137 American agents operating inside the GDR. However, it was the NATO nuclear strategy of 'massive retaliation' that was the true backstory to the alleged plan for an attack on the GDR, as outlined in For Eyes Only.

It was important that the threat of invasion was understood as a clear and present danger, and not only in the minds of the GDR's cinema-goers. Even the real spy, Horst Hesse, was for a long time led by his controllers to believe that he had delivered them an attack plan – and so saved his country. A documentary film, For Eyes Only – a Film and its History (For Eyes Only – Ein Film und seine Geschichte, Germany, 2008, directed by Gunther Scholz), examined the background to this spy operation and the film version of it; it showed that the double-agent Hesse, in spite of the dangers he underwent on his mission, was nothing more than a disposable cog in the GDR security machine and was exploited for propaganda purposes. Hesse only found out that his 'story' had been filmed when the film was premiered. Party functionaries had deliberately prevented the writer of the screenplay, Harry Thürk, from meeting the former spy. For Eyes Only was a huge success: over a million GDR citizens saw it in the first three months.

MfS Secret Agent Hansen is a character the audience can empathise with: he's played by an actor otherwise unknown at the time, Alfred Müller. The double-agent goes about his mission with commitment and single-mindedness, using sophisticated gadgets and making sure he's armed in case of trouble. He's intelligent, charming and can always talk himself out of tricky situations. Although he shoots to kill and has abandoned his son back in the GDR, his moral integrity is indisputable: he is a shining example of the loyal GDR citizen, working to build socialism and ready to risk his life in the process. He's presented as a model for the East German man or woman in the street.

For Eyes Only is a spy film with a clear ideological intent, typical of that period in the Cold War. Classic spy films reflect the fear of the unknown 'other', who threatens to attack and take over one's homeland. During the Cold War, this 'other' was the political enemy on the other side of the Iron Curtain, so the paradigms of the two sides in the spy film are black and white figures, who represent good and evil in the minds of cinema-goers and ensure that they identify with the 'right' side. Which side that was, of course, depended on which side of the 'curtain' the film was made. The spy film is pre-eminently a genre that can be used for propaganda, and such films made in the communist bloc tended to rely on characterisations of Western agents that were very much exaggerated – which is the case with For Eyes Only. These characterisations were also enhanced by cinematic devices, to underline the differences between 'our' man and 'theirs'.

In For Eyes Only, for example, décor, the design of rooms, lighting and subtle use of music tell the audience which secret service is friend and which is foe: these devices are deployed to advantage in the opening sequence of the film, in which the intelligence chiefs of both services chair their planning meetings. The atmosphere in the American HQ in Frankfurt-am-Main is austere: neon lights and strip panelling make the room look cold, sterile. The military intelligence chief, a General, chairs the meeting at the head of a long table; his departmental heads each present their reports individually, in isolation. These reports, which detail the plans for the attack on the GDR, are overlaid by a music track, which creates and heightens the tension.

The situation in the Ministry for State Security in East Berlin is very different: the mood is relaxed, the MfS colonel in charge does not sit in an executive chair but is surrounded by his colleagues, leaning over a map. As the discussion proceeds, he moves about the room and sits on the edge of the table. People are smoking and drinking coffee; the lighting is warm and there are books and photos of leading communists scattered here and there. The two meetings are shown in parallel montage (alternating shots), so that the contrast between 'them' and 'us' is crystal clear.

In the course of the division of Europe into two blocs after the Second World War, and the ensuing confrontation between capitalism, the market economy and democracy on one side of the Iron Curtain and communism, the planned economy and dictatorship on the other, the security services were in the ascendant. The nuclear arms race was the spymasters' own cold war, a race to gather information on the other side's political and military intentions. First and foremost they had to spy on the enemy – but there was also counter-espionage against the enemy´s spies. Until the Soviet Union exploded its own atom bomb in 1949, its main target was American nuclear research; after the Soviets got the bomb, espionage on both sides was about ascertaining the other's weapons potential and assessing its plans for weapons development and possible attack. It was not just political and military espionage that mattered, industrial spying also had a part to play, although in this case it was largely the Soviet Union copying Western designs for computer technology and military aircraft. Another important task was to infiltrate the other side's security services – counter-espionage – in order covertly to disrupt their activities and also to get information about their counter-espionage efforts and agents. Here it was a question of both turning the other side´s spies into double-agents as well as penetrating their organisations. In the 1950s air reconnaissance became increasingly important, followed by satellite surveillance in the following decade. Later on the security services on both sides supported opposition and terrorist organisations – as well as their coup attempts – in foreign states viewed as hostile; and they made attempts on the lives of other spies and on politicians.

In 1970, the East German Ministry for State Security produced the first edition of its "Dictionary of State Security Terminology" – not something that you could buy in a shop as it was for internal use only! – but it included definitions of terms like "politically operational work" and throws an interesting light on the day-to-day jargon and ideological justification of the Stasi's work. Spy activity abroad is defined as "political and operational reconnaissance and fieldwork". The commentary that follows is a perfect example of the ideologically loaded vocabulary that was used in the communist bloc. 'Politically operational reconnaissance' is explained as: "any activity, which provides timely and reliable information about any enemy activity which might endanger or harm the interests of the GDR or the community of socialist states or the communist world movement or other revolutionary forces; and any activity, which might hinder or prevent surprise attacks on the political, military or scientific and technical interests [of the above]"; and also "any activity, which furthers and strengthens the international status of socialism and its supporters in their class war against imperialism".

The most spectacular spy incident in German post-war history was the case of Günter Guillaume. From 1972, he worked as an expert researcher in the Federal Chancellery in Bonn and was a personal advisor to the then Chancellor, Willy Brandt. He was, however, a Stasi officer; and he had access to top secret West German government documents, as well as to the internal discussions of the Social Democratic Party. Although Guillaume and his wife – fellow spy Christel – were able to pass on very little information of value to the Stasi, which meant the damage to West German interests was kept to a minimum, his unmasking in April 1974 shocked the public. Willy Brandt took personal responsibility for the affair and resigned the following month.

Finally, a few words about the director of For Eyes Only, János Veiczi (1924-1987). He was the son of a Budapest shoemaker and he grew up in very poor circumstances. After graduating from secondary school, he took a further education course in Electrical and Mechanical Engineering. In 1944, during the Second World War, he and his wife were transported to Berlin as forced labour: he worked in the Dollberg armaments factory in the Berlin suburb of Rudow. At the end of the war, he applied for a job as a trainee at the DEFA studios, where he studied Drama and Direction from 1949 to 1952. He then worked as assistant director to such figures as Gerhard Klein (director of the classic crime film Berlin, Schönhauser Corner, 1957), before making his own first feature film The Benderath Incident / Zwischenfall in Benderath (1956). He made seven feature films in all, which mainly dealt with political themes such as Nazism and the Cold War: but his most successful was For Eyes Only.
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