The Germans gave him the code name the code name Arabel, the British called him Garbo -- because he was such a great actor that he managed to perform miracles of deception for them. Yes, bottom line, he did turn out to be truly in service to the British, and was solely responsible for giving the Allies the upper hand at D-Day at Normandy, a real turning point in determining the outcome of World War II.
Until long after the war, only a handful of people knew his true identity, and they weren't telling. Furthermore, he'd disappeared after the war, and everyone assumed he was dead.
Fortunately, Nigel West, a former intelligence agent who now teaches the history of espionage, remained curious and kept looking for information about Garbo. West is one of the sources interviewed in the documentary, and he reveals much of what he's discovered about Garbo, and how he came to his knowledge. It's a fascinating tale.
Filmmaker Edmon Roch is an extremely clever storyteller, revealing one detail after another about the legendary Garbo, his background, personality, career and final days. Roch engages his audience fully in the intrigue, creating an aura of suspense and an ambiance of uncertainty even about things that we already know. That's what makes this documentary such a treat. And, that's why I have no hesitation about filling you in on some of the real details -- I know they won't spoil your pleasure in watching the film.
The Real Details
Garbo's real name was Joan Pujol Garcia. He was a Spaniard, from a well-to-do family in Barcelona, and he lead quite an ordinary bourgeois life until the political situation in Spain changed. He was cleverly opportunistic in surviving the difficulties presented by the Spanish Civil War. But, eventually, he found himself in need of a job. As though he were applying for ordinary employment -- like dish washing, for example -- he approached the British Embassy in Madrid, offering his services as a spy for the Allies. The Brits had no idea of who he was, and sent him packing. So, he turned around and went to the Germans, and offered to spy for them, saying he'd move to London and gather information about the Brits. They took him on. He, as Arabel, began sending reports about British politics, industry and military plans and he soon became an invaluable and trusted source for the Germans.
He played the spy game well, convincing the Germans that he was filing his reports from London, while he was actually living near Lisbon, and getting all of his information from the newspapers and public library. Similarly, he claimed to have network of 22 sub-agents working for him -- and got money to pay them -- but they were all invented personalities, each with a distinct yet intertwined set of exacting details about their life situations, their needs and psyches. Each had a richly complex story.
Arabel's intrigues were absolutely brilliant. Sometimes his reports contained glaring errors -- such as reporting that British dock workers offered information for a liter of wine (British dock workers drink beer!) or that summer in London was so hot that officials had moved to Brighton temporarily, and that he was going there to join them (London never gets that hot!) -- but, his German handlers never questioned the veracity of his reports, and he gained their complete trust, often by having two of his fake sub-spies independently validate the findings of each other.
Once he was well-established with the Germans, he went to the Brits again, offering to work for them. This time, they thought he'd be useful to them because of the knowledge he had of German espionage operations and the influence he had with his handlers. They'd seen that he had instigated, for example, the deployment of a huge German air strike against a convoy of ships that he'd simply made up!
The Brits actually brought him to England for the first time, and orchestrated his continuing to feed the Germans false information. The plan paid off at Normandy, when Garbo convinced the Germans that the D-Day attack was a mere diversion for a larger, more threatening attack was going to take place in Pas de Calais. General Patton was set up as a decoy! The Germans moved their troops to Pas de Calais, and that's why there was no counter attack at Normandy, and the allies were able to move forward. It was a decisive turning point in the war.
After the war, he did indeed vanish -- into a new life. He left everything -- including his family -- in Madrid, and went to Venezuela, where he reestablished himself and started a new family. After 30 years of research, Nigel West located him, and invited him to come to Buckingham Palace to receive the honors he'd not yet claimed. Garbo said yes, he'd like to do that. And so the story of Joan Pujol Garcia, aka Garbo, goes....
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- A Film Unfinished
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- Nuremberg: Its Lessons For Today
- Garbo the Spy
- Directors: Edmon Roch
- Theatrical Release Date: November 18, 2011 (limited)
- Running Time: 88 mins.
- Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parents
- Country: Spain
- Locations: Barcelona, Madrid, London and Venezuela
- Language: English, and Spanish, Catalan, German with English subtitles
- Distribution Company: First Run Features
- Official Website
- Official Trailer