Thursday, October 15, 2015

“Bridge of Spies,” the latest collaboration between Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, opens Friday, and advance reviews are strong. Hanks plays James B. Donovan, a distinguished New York attorney asked in 1957 by the Brooklyn Bar Association to represent Rudolf Abel, a Soviet spy caught red-handed (sorry ‘bout that) plying his trade (Abel, a colonel in the KGB, lived in Brooklyn when the FBI nabbed him). I’m looking forward to the film, not just because of Hanks and Spielberg, but because Jim Donovan was one of my uncle’s closest friends.
My uncle, Don Gormley, and Donovan met at Fordham, class of ’37, and remained friends until Donovan’s untimely death in 1970. The movie’s trailer shows Hanks stating that he’s an insurance attorney, which is true, but doesn’t quite explain why the Bar Association would ask him to accept the Abel case. After Fordham, Donovan went to Harvard Law School, then into the Navy when war broke out. As an officer and lawyer, Donovan was involved with the Manhattan Project, became counsel to the Office of Strategic Services (forerunner to the CIA), and associate counsel at the main trial of Nazis at Nuremberg.
I hope the film captures the relationship between Donovan, a devout Catholic, and Abel (Mark Rylance), a committed Communist; each had the highest respect for the other, and Donovan recounts the intrigue in his excellent 1964 book, “Strangers On a Bridge,” recently reissued by Scribner. The trailers declare that the movie is ‘inspired by a true story,” and a viewing of the trailers shows where the movie has been ginned up, which is fine—it’s a movie, not a documentary (one minor spoiler: the Donovans lived in a duplex apartment in an elegant, prewar Park Slope co-op building on Prospect Park West, not a house. If you see the film, you’ll understand what “inspired” means).
After representing Abel, then negotiating the famous swap of Abel for Francis Gary Powers, the pilot of our downed
U-2 spy plane, Donovan, working without portfolio but with the approval of then Attorney General Robert Kennedy, negotiated with Fidel Castro for the release of 9,700 Bay of Pigs prisoners in exchange for prescription drugs and baby food. He later served as president of the New York City Board of Education and president of Pratt Institute.
And by the way, he donated his $10,000 fee (about $80,000 today) for the Abel case to Fordham College and Harvard and Columbia Law Schools. Jim Donovan was an admirable person. We could use more these days.


Post a Comment

<< Home