Directed by Otto Preminger
Margin for Error is an interesting film for the way it handles tensions among Americans and Germans in the US during World War II, but interesting is about the kindest thing you could say about it. It’s not all that entertaining, nor does it deliver any deep message, so instead it just feels like some kind of pro-American propaganda film. The Germans are predominantly of the villainous “Sieg hiel!” variety, with the main villain sporting a monocle and doing absolutely nothing to hide his outright hatred of America, the country he’s living in and is a diplomat to. If he had a mustache you can bet he’d be twirling it like the war depended on it, too.
But before we get to this guy, Margin for Error opens on a military boat carrying a load of soldiers off to some unnamed foreign shore or WWII battle. Max (Carl Esmond), one of the soldiers, has a thick German accent. When the red-blooded American soldiers give him a hard time, Moe (Milton Berle) stops the group and tells them the story of how Max came to become an enlisted man. No, this doesn’t lead into a 1940s version of the Full Metal Jacket boot camp scenario; it’s about the intrigue that develops at the German consulate in some unnamed East Coast city.
If you’re having a hard time figuring out where I’m going with this, or what the movie is actually about, you’re not alone. It’s just as disjointed as it seems. The film initially presents itself as the story of Max and Moe, but as soon as we get into the meat of the movie it’s Karl who takes center stage. And Karl may have provided wonderfully nefarious comic relief for an American public waiting at home for their friends and family members to return from the war, but at this point 71 years later it’s a little less effective. This is no fault of the film, but I can’t help but think that if it were a better constructed movie my opinion would be different.
Couldn’t find a trailer, but I did find this version of the entire film narrated for the visually impaired (which, in the case of this horrible quality YouTube video, is everyone!)