Moe Berg’s story is so good that you’ll forgive “The Spy Behind Home Plate” for overtelling it.
Berg, a son of Ukrainian-Jewish immigrants, grew up in New York City and Newark. After graduating from Princeton he played baseball professionally for 15 seasons while earning a law degree at Columbia University and passing the bar exam. He spoke at least 10 languages and befriended several famous figures of his time, including Albert Einstein and Babe Ruth.
And somewhere along the way he became a spy.
In the run-up to World War II, Berg gathered information on Japan during a visit there. When the war began, he was recruited as an agent by the Office of Strategic Services, a precursor to the C.I.A. He went behind enemy lines in Europe to uncover secrets about the Nazi nuclear program, and was a hair’s breadth away from assassinating Werner Heisenberg.
Aviva Kempner, the documentary’s director, packs in plenty of other exploits. More than 60 historians, journalists and family members (some in archival videos) are heard from, including Nicholas Dawidoff, whose book “The Catcher Was a Spy” recounted Berg’s adventures and was made into a 2018 feature film. Barbara Ballow, the documentary’s skillful editor, would have been justified in billing for triple overtime with all the footage and photographs used here.
There’s much to absorb throughout “The Spy Behind Home Plate,” and sometimes details speed by too fast or digressions go on a bit long. Still, Kempner’s passion for her remarkable subject is always evident. If she wants you to know a lot about Moe Berg, that’s because there’s a lot worth knowing.
The Spy Behind Home Plate
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 41 minutes.