The Spy Behind Home Plate

How one man went from catching a ball to becoming one of the greatest spies of all.

The life of baseball player turned government spook Moe Berg would seem contrived if it hadn’t actually happened in, y’know, real life. Rosenwald director Aviva Kempner’s engrossing documentary The Spy Behind Home Plate tells Berg’s story through archival footage and modern interviews, mostly with writers whose books are prominently featured in the frame. The multilingual autodidact and all-around brainiac Berg’s life was dramatic enough as he faced down anti-Semitism at Princeton and in professional baseball, but then he went on to spy in Japan during the leadup to World War II, and then in Axis territory during the war, to gather intel for the Manhattan Project.

Berg kept famously mum about the exact details of his spy work, so Kempner compensates by being generous with historical context, and The Spy Behind Home Plate doubles as a primer about America’s first intelligence agency, the CIA forerunner called the Office of Strategic Services. The OSS’s founder — not Berg — was a friend of fellow spy and James Bond creator Ian Fleming, and perhaps not coincidentally, some of Bond’s You Only Live Twice adventures resembled Berg’s real-life escapades. It’s also mentioned in passing that Berg’s baseball-hating father never attended any of his child’s games, which just goes to show that great things can be achieved in spite of parental disinterest.

Not rated. Opens Friday at the Opera Plaza Cinema.

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