13 Rue Madeleine and the National Archives

Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher.

Elizabeth Hamer, the chief of the National Archives Exhibits and Publications staff, maintained a very detailed daily diary of everything she and her staff did between 1946 and 1951. While conducting research for an article on the 1946 accessioning and exhibiting of Adolf Hitler’s Last Will and Testament by the National Archives, I consulted her diary to learn about the exhibiting aspects of the story.  In the course of looking through the diary I ran across an entry for May 27, 1946 (see image), regarding a visit by men from Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation and the thirty-eight year old Hollywood actress, the French-born Annabella, to the National Archives in conjunction with the filming of the movie 13 Rue Madeleine. Ms. Hamer incorrectly noted the name of the film in pencil as 12 Rue Madeleine.  At the time Annabella was a well-known actress, married to Hollywood-heartthrob Tyrone Power, whom she had met when she came to Hollywood in the late 1930s.

Seeing the reference to the movie brought back memories of having seen it numerous times on television.  It is a World War II spy thriller, released in January 1947, starring Annabella, James Cagney, and Richard Conte.  The film deals with “077” (used instead of OSS-Office of Strategic Services) agents infiltrating into German-occupied France.  The title of the film refers to the address in Le Havre, France, where, in the movie, a Gestapo headquarters was located.

One of the things I especially liked about the movie is how it begins and ends: at the National Archives.  At the beginning of the film the National Archives Building (Archives I) is shown, followed by a scene of a stack area, and then a scene of a file cabinet, where a staff member reaches in and pulls out a folder labeled “13 Rue Madeleine.”  The movie ends with the file folder going back into the cabinet, the story having been told.  This was all accomplished in very dramatic, very patriotic manner.

About the same time I was looking at Ms. Hamer’s staff daily diary, I learned that the actor George Clooney had acquired the movie rights to Robert Edsel’s book, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, with the intention of directing and starring in the movie version.

I thought it would be wonderful to have Mr. Clooney’s movie open and close in the same manner as 13 Rue Madeleine, even if an archives stack area was recreated and the scenes were shot on a Hollywood film set.  Instead of a file cabinet, a shelf or two of archival boxes of the records of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives officers (i.e., the Monuments Men) that Mr. Edsel used in writing his book could be shown, with a box being pulled off the shelf and opened at the beginning of the movie and the box being closed and placed back on the shelf at the end of the movie.  I traveled with the Archivist, David Ferriero, to Dallas last spring to receive from Mr. Edsel, head of the Monuments Men Foundation, the very kind donation to the National Archives of two Hitler photo albums showing looted art.  However, I did not take the opportunity to bring up the subject with Mr. Edsel, even when he showed the Archivist and me a recent photo of him with George Clooney. Perhaps Mr. Edsel will see this blog post and pass my idea along to George Clooney.  And then, perhaps, Mr. Clooney will visit the National Archives and Miriam Kleiman of the Public Affairs staff will get her wish to show him around as she offered in her blog post about the book and the movie.

George Clooney’s film The Monuments Men is scheduled to open in theaters on December 18, 2013.

4 thoughts on “13 Rue Madeleine and the National Archives

  1. Thanks Greg! Fascinating story, and with the help of Hollywood, more people will learn about all this group did. I’m reading Mr. Edsel’s book now. And I know what the next movie on my Netflix list will be – 13 Rue Madeleine. Jim

  2. Great post, Greg- a nice concise summary of an intriguing intersection of Hollywood and Archives. I see this movie whenever it’s on TV, and I made my daughter watch the opening scenes a few months ago, too.

  3. Thanks for the informative post,Greg.
    The Digital Photographic Imaging lab has digitized Hitler’s last Will & testament for exhibits before, but I was unaware it had been featured in a movie. We are currently digitizing one of the Monument Men Albums, and I know about the George Clooney movie in the works, but I had no idea about 13 Rue Madeleine. I will put it on my list & certainly watch for the Archives starring role.

  4. Hitler’s Last Will and Testament was not in the movie 13 Rue Madeleine, just a file folder labeled 13 Rue Madeleine. The reference to the Hitler documents was to research for an article I was writing about them. Sorry for any confusion.

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