The story of heroic Jewish immigrant Moe Berg in ‘The Spy Behind Home Plate’
Samuel Brown reviews Aviva Kempner's newest film "The Spy Behind Home Plate," which tells the true story of Major League Baseball player and American spy, Moe Berg. Samuel says this 101 minute long film is a must see, and gives important praise and visibility to immigrants like Berg! The film premieres this Friday, May 31st, at Landmark's Ritz at the Bourse!

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Moe Berg’s Passport
Moe Berg’s Passport

Morris “Moe” Berg was an all American icon; a baseball superstar, a World War II hero, a scholar who graduated from Princeton. Everything about Moe screamed patriot. And yet, when you look behind all of his accolades, you will find the humble story of a Jewish immigrant. Aviva Kempner’s documentary, The Spy Behind Homeplate, comes out at a divisive time in American politics when Synagogues are at risk from mass shooters, and immigrants are referred to as illegal aliens rather than human beings. Although the film does not concern itself with contemporary issues, I believe it is not only relevant, but important to show an all-American patriot, such as Moe Berg who embodies the American spirit while coming from a diverse, immigrant background.

One of the most interesting aspects of Moe’s character is his dedication to travel and interest in other cultures. The man could speak twelve different languages! As we follow Moe through World War II Japan and Germany where he served as a spy for the Office of Strategic Services or OSS, we are introduced to his pivotal role in the race to acquire the atomic bomb. Reading about the major events of World War II in history textbooks can give us an understanding of the chaos during the 1940s, but watching this history play out through the lens of one individual brings the era to life. Kempner also has a myriad of archival footage and interviewees that do a great job of putting the viewer in a time capsule.

Moe Berg as a catcher during his time in MLB – Courtesy of Irwin Berg
Moe Berg as a catcher during his time in MLB – Courtesy of Irwin Berg

But let me not leave out the heart of the film: baseball. Moe viewed the sport like a game of chess, once calling the catcher, his position, “the cerberus of the field.” Baseball, the great American pastime, is truly a microcosm of American history, and Moe joins the ranks of players like Jackie Robinson who defy stereotypes on the field. As we follow Moe’s upbringing, we find out that Jews were not welcomed on the baseball-diamond or in prestigious universities like Princeton, but Moe was just too skilled, too intelligent, for anyone to turn down, thus paving a way for others like him.

Not only is The Spy Behind Homeplate informative, but the premise is just so surreal. At one moment we see Moe rub shoulders with the likes of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, and at the next he’s having conversations with figures like Werner Heisenberg and Albert Einstein. This unique look at a society divided by racial prejudice and on the cusp of creating humanity’s most dangerous weapon sends ripples to the America we inhabit today. We are often told that if we do not learn from history we are doomed to repeat it, and films like The Spy Behind Homeplate are important in reclaiming the American narrative while giving Jewish immigrants like Morris “Moe” Berg their rightful place in the patriotic canon.

The Spy Behind Home Plate” premieres in Philadelphia this Friday, May 31st, at Landmark’s Ritz at the Bourse!


More Photos

Moe Berg on assignment in South America – Courtesy of Linda McCarthy
Moe Berg on assignment in South America – Courtesy of Linda McCarthy
Moe Berg in a military jeep in California with his brother Sam during the war, July 1942 – Courtesy of Irwin Berg
Moe Berg in a military jeep in California with his brother Sam during the war, July 1942 – Courtesy of Irwin Berg
Moe Berg in Switzerland – Courtesy of Linda McCarthy
Moe Berg in Switzerland – Courtesy of Linda McCarthy
Tags

Athlete, baseball, film, Jewish Immigrant, Moe Berg, patriot, patriotism, princeton, Spy, The Spy Behind Home Plate, World War II

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