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The Movie "Argo"

 

The “Canadian Caper” in Tehran in 1979 is one of the great rescue stories in our times.  Some rescue stories have been unbelievable such as the Israeli operation at Entebbe, Uganda airport in 1976, which saw the Israeli Defense Forces snatch 100 Israelis and Jews right away from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine hijackers and their supporter Uganda President Idi Amin.  In 1977, the German GSG-9 rescued 86 passengers from a Lufthansa airliner in Somalia.  Both were clean operations for the good guys with the exception that Entebbe had one fatality, Lieutenant Colonel Yonatan Netanyahu, the brother of Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu.  Perhaps one of the most infamous rescue operations was Operation Eagle Claw, which the U.S. bungled with disastrous consequences in an effort to rescue the 52 American hostages held in Tehran at the same time as the Canadian Caper.  Argo is a highly rated movie, four stars by Orlando Sentinel movie critic Roger Moore.

 

The Entebbe operation spawned cinema movies including the 1976 heavyweight movie Victory at Entebbe starring Anthony Hopkins, Burt Lancaster, and Elizabeth Taylor.  The 1977 Raid on Entebbe was also heavyweight and featured Peter Finch, Charles Bronson, and James Woods.  Operation Eagle Claw has spawned no movie as it is a disaster event with no imaginable happy ending which Hollywood can nonetheless create for airline emergencies, skyscraper fires, and ship sinkings.

 

Canada's role in the escape had to be huge because the Canadian Ambassador to Iran, Ken Taylor and Immigration Officer John Sheardown secretly housed, for 79 days, six American embassy employees, who had escaped out the back door of a U.S. embassy office in Tehran.  Argo depicts how the Iranian radicals eventually gleaned that there were six unaccounted for Americans and uptook their location as the Canadian residences - but just a little late.  The 79 day affair had to be nerve wracking for all concerned.  A good time was had by none.  

 

Alas, the role of Canada is well praised but at the end of the movie.  Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor speaks little and has a minor role but is portrayed, in the few scenes, as polished and daring but well could have been more genuinely depicted. Taylor was awarded the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal (the highest civilian award by the Congress) and was appointed to the Order of Canada along with Immigration Officer John Sheardown and six other Canadian embassy staff members.  John Sheardown was not portrayed in the movie but he housed some of the hunted U.S. staffers, took the huge risk, and should have been portrayed.  Also CBC camera man Dennis Packer joined the exfiltration team on the mission that he knew was no Hollywood movie though the caper's risk and success made it so.  He should have been portrayed. 

But the movie focuses on the actions of real life CIA agent Tony Mendez, an artist, a disguise artist, and an exfiltration specialist with many unnamed other exfiltrations to his credit.

Argo is directed by and stars Ben Affleckas Mendez along with John Goodman and Alan Arkin.  Ben Affleck does a fantastic job of portraying real life Tony Mendez.  Mendez has a most interesting resume as his early years appear unjustifiable to segue into a CIA Agent.  He attended the University of Colorado and was shortly hired by the CIA as an espionage artist.  He evolved into a disguise artist.  He is currently in retirement as an artist in rural Maryland.  According to his website and other sources he rose to the CIA equivalent rank of a Major General and among titles was the CIA Chief of Disguise.

Mendez’s resume blows the Hollywood character development for a spy.  Shouldn't a spy copy the behavior modified Jason Bourn, or be covertly named M, or have been in the Royal Navy like James Bond?

 

For the best description of the Canadian Caper, see the CIA website story below:

www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/kent-csi/vol43no3/pdf/v43i3a01p.pdf

Tony Mendez wrote the article, available at the above CIA website, where his description of Ambassador Ken Taylor is 180 degrees different than the Argo movie depiction.  Mendez wrote of Taylor, "He was a tall lean pleasant looking individual dressed in western jeans and a plaid shirt and wearing cowboy boots.  He wore mod sun glasses and had a full salt and pepper Afro-style haircut."  Mendez's description seems more like a likeness of 1970's hip rock star than a 1970s Brooks Brothers suited diplomat, which the movie portrayed.  So, like all movies, like Titanic, as we would expect, the movie operates recklessly with artistic license.

 

But, Argo  is very, very good and was produced for the 300 million U.S. market and was a little careless of the 30 million Canadian market but the movie represents a worthy story to be in Canadian folklore with other Canadian heroics like Billy Bishop in WWI, Terry Fox in life, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the annals.

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