Year Released: 2019
Directed by; Aviva Kempner
Starring: Moe Berg, his biographer Nicolas Dawidoff, and several teammates, sportswriters, and historians,
(Not Rated, 98 min.)
“He’s a guy who went to Princeton and Columbia, spoke many languages, was a professional baseball player. I mean, if he wasn’t real, you would have to invent him.” Interview about Moe Berg
He’s been called the Jewish James Bond. Moe Berg, “the brainiest man in baseball,” was a whiz at languages, speaking somewhere around ten foreign tongues, and he used that ability to spy for the OSS, which later became the C.IA.
Here truth is indeed stranger than fiction. Can you imagine a college ballplayer signaling his teammate in Latin? But he played for Princeton, and one person suggested that it wouldn’t fool all those Ivy League players who also studied Latin.
“Well, if they catch on,” Moe quipped, “we’ll just change to Sanskrit.” And the joke wasn’t a bluff. Moe was actually quite proficient in that “dead” language. He studied it at the Sorbonne in Paris while vacationing there in the off-season.
He also was self-taught in Japanese, preparing for his trip there in 1934 with the American All Star team. It was kind of a good will mission, the Americans coaching the young Japanese who were crazy for the sport, but not that sophisticated. On the boat trip over, his teammates asked Moe if he could speak Japanese, and he said no. But when he greeted his Japanese hosts in their own language upon arrival, they were surprised.
“I thought you said you couldn’t speak Japanese,” they scolded.
“You asked me that at the beginning of the trip,” he sallied back. In between dancing with Babe Ruth’s pretty daughter Claire aboard ship, he had used the voyage to study the language in depth, even learning how to sign his autograph in Japanese characters.
The film includes great reels of that tremendous team aboard ship, including afore-mentioned Babe Ruth as well as his wife and daughter, dancing, tossing the odd baseball on deck, and just having a glorious good time with Moe on the way to Japan.
My friend Carolyn, a walking encyclopedia about classic films, enjoyed this part best:
I loved seeing baseball greats in this film, like Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. We get to see the Babe with his wife and daughter. He is all smiles.
He is not all smiles when the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. Incensed at their treachery, he throws the gifts he has received from Japan out his window. The Goodwill Tour had been for naught.
But maybe not entirely. While there, Moe had donned a kimono to hide his forbidden camera, and pretending to visit the American Ambassador’s daughter who had just given birth, he made his way into the hospital, got off the elevator at the proper floor, dumping the flowers for the young mother he did not even know, and skedaddled up to the roof, which was the highest in Tokyo.
Up there with his prohibited camera he proceeded to capture the entire skyline, a film later thought to have been beneficial to General James H. Doolittle on his raid there after Japan’s sneak attack.
And that’s without even mentioning his surveillance for America’s Manhattan project and his dangerous undercover activities in wartime Germany and italy.
Berg is pictured as a living anachronism, a Renaissance man spending his days in the twentieth century. As such he had a list of friends and acquaintances stretching from Chico Marks, to one time roommate Dom DiMaggio (Joe’s brother) and even Albert Einstein. Once they shared an afternoon tea together where the physicist showed his own sense of humor and wit.
"Mr. Berg, you teach me baseball and I will teach you the theory of relativity," followed by a thoughtful pause from Einstein.
"No, we must not. You will learn relativity faster than I will learn baseball." An apt statement to anyone having seen this wonderful film.
Who doesn’t love baseball and James Bond, particularly our own Jewish-American version? And this delightful documentary is loaded with background songs by Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, and Astaire/Rogers musicals, as well as cuts of classic spy films featuring James Cagney, Gary Cooper, and Alan Ladd. What’s not to like?
You must make the time to see this fine film. Like the man himself, it is unique.
But don’t take my word for it. Here are some thoughts from a very learned panel of fellow film buffs.
Scotty, an Irish tenor, although he is actually Italian, is a longtime favorite on the Austin stage and an aficionado of vintage movies.
What I liked most about the movie was that it was information about WWII that I had never heard before. I've seen numerous documentaries about WWII, but I have never heard about Moe Berg. He was a fascinating person and I agree with the filmmakers that he was a hero- both intellectually and physically. He and his family overcame daunting hurdles as immigrants and Jews, and in spite of this, Moe served his country without hesitation. I also liked that he was admired by his teammates. This is so different from some of the egocentric super stars in sports today.
Gerry, a former actress and drama teacher, also loves classic films:
This documentary is packed with thrilling surprises about how the son of a Jewish immigrant came to be a storied baseball player and a secret hero of America's World War II battles with Japan and Nazi armies of Germany and Italy. The story pulled me in and held my interest in much the same way that Bridge of Spies had done. It was rich in film clips from the period which gives this story the reality of a first hand experience.
And a final word from Carolyn, our resident walking encyclopedia about films and the private life of stars, especially those made from the 40s and 50s:
Moe Berg is portrayed so eloquently. Perhaps he was divinely inspired to work so actively against the evil menace facing America during the nineteen-thirties and the nineteen-forties. Great documentary!
4 1/2 Drums
Given Moe Berg’s fun loving nature and his derring-do in Japan, I am sure he would have loved this Japanese version of America’s Long Island Iced Tea. Imitation is, of course, the sincerest compliment, mirroring the Japanese predilection for our unique American sport, too.
Enjoy, with this introduction from our friend, the “Tipsy Bartender.”
The Tokyo Iced Tea is another one of those incredible twists on the classic Long Island Iced Tea recipes. In the case of the Tokyo Iced Tea, all of the liquors remain the same as the classic Long Island Iced Tea, but the mixers are changed up. The usual Coke used in the classic Long Island is replaced with 7-Up (or another type of lemon-lime soda) and the triple sec is replaced with kiwi liqueur.
Here are a few other Japanese recipes from Different Drummer:
And here are a few more Asian recipes and some greats films to go along with them:
Tokyo Iced Tea
1 oz. (30ml) Vodka
1 oz. (30ml) Rum
1 oz. (30ml) Tequila
1 oz. (30ml) Gin
1 oz. (30ml) Triple Sec
2 1/2 oz. (75ml) Sweet & Sour Mix
1 oz. (30ml) Lemon Lime Soda
1 oz. (30ml) Melon Liqueur
Garnish: Lemon Slices, Cherry
1. Build a glass using ice and lemon slices and pour in liquors and mixers.
2. Garnish with a cherry