Operator 13

Operator 13 is a 1934 American romance film directed by Richard Boleslawski and starring Marion Davies, Gary Cooper, and Jean Parker.

Operator 13
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRichard Boleslawski
Produced byLucien Hubbard
Screenplay by
Story byRobert W. Chambers
Music byWilliam Axt
CinematographyGeorge J. Folsey
Edited byFrank Sullivan
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • June 8, 1934 (1934-06-08) (USA)
Running time
85 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1,010,000[1]

Based on stories written by Robert W. Chambers, the film is about a Union spy who impersonates a black maid in the early days of the Civil War, but complications arise when she falls in love with a Confederate officer.[2] George J. Folsey received an Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography.[3]


In the American Civil War, Union forces are reeling after their defeat in the Second Battle of Bull Run. The Pauline Cushman Players are performing for wounded soldiers at a Union military hospital. Pauline, a spy who works for Allan Pinkerton, recommends her close friend and fellow showgirl Gail to become a spy for the Union cause as Operator 13 (the previous Operator 13 having been caught and shot).

Gail, disguised in blackface, accompanies Pauline south as her octaroon black maid. The Confederates become aware there is a spy in their midst, and Captain Gailliard is asked to help find out who it is. While washing General Stuart’s clothes, Gail hears he will attend a ball that night. At the ball, Captain Gailliard suspects that Pauline is a spy and finds evidence in her room. Pauline, trying to flee, is arrested and is to be a witness against Gail, who is later sentenced to death. Both women manage to escape and return to the Union lines.

Pinkerton decides to use Gail to trap Gailliard, and as part of the plan, she jeers at a parade of Union soldiers and is thought to be a heroine in the Southern newspapers. Gail, as Anne Claibourne, is pardoned by Lincoln and heads south, where Captain Gailliard is attracted to her. However, Gail is later told by Stuart's groom, a fellow spy, that she is known to be a spy and she flees in a Confederate uniform. Gailliard grabs her horse, but she strikes him with a gun and rides off with the groom. Gailliard and others pursue them.

The fugitives hide in an abandoned farmhouse. Gailliard finds her. Fortunately for her, a group of Union soldiers are nearby. When they spot the groom, still wearing a Confederate uniform, they shoot him. Gail and Gailliard watch undetected as a Confederate is executed by a Union firing squad. Gail tells Gailliard she loves him and refuses to betray him to the soldiers. Then the Confederates attack. In the fighting, Gail persuades Gailliard to slip away in the confusion and rejoin his side.

The war effectively comes to an end when Robert E. Lee surrenders to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House. Afterward, Gail and Gailliard reconcile.


Curly Howard of The Three Stooges fame was cast in a small speaking part, which was mostly cut prior to release. He is briefly seen in the film.


The New York Times reviewer found it "scarcely credible in most of its action", but "In its own peculiar fashion it is entertaining and besides the capable work of Miss Davies there are splendid performances by Jean Parker and Gary Cooper."[2]

The film grossed a total (domestic and foreign) of $1,010,000: $619,000 from the US and Canada and $391,000 elsewhere, resulting in a loss of $226,000.[1]

Television view

This film's initial television presentation took place in Philadelphia Friday 29 March 1957 on WFIL (Channel 6); in Chicago it first aired 27 April 1957 on WBBM (Channel 2), in Seattle 29 July 1957 on KING (Channel 5), in Minneapolis 2 August 1957 on KMGM (Channel 9), in Honolulu 9 August 1957 on KHVH (Channel 13), in Portland OR 23 August 1957 on KGW (Channel 8), in Altoona PA 30 September 1957 on WFBG (Channel 10), in Akron 7 November 1957 on WAKR (Channel 49), in Tampa 15 December 1957 on WFLA (Channel 8) and in Miami 8 January 1958 on WCKT (Channel 7); in San Francisco it was first telecast 11 March 1960 on KGO (Channel 7). Because of its age, obscurity, and certain pre-code aspects of its story, other major market telecasts eluded it at this time, but it's now in the Turner Classic Movies inventory and vintage film enthusiasts welcome its occasional airings on cable TV on TCM.

Operator 13 is referenced in the 1935 Three Stooges short film Uncivil Warriors, which lends not only the plot but also the names of the characters (Operators 12 through 15, with Operator 13 having died beforehand).


  1. The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  2. M. H. (June 23, 1934). "Civil War Spies". The New York Times. Retrieved July 31, 2016.
  3. "The 7th Academy Awards: 1935". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
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