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Outwitting the Ayatollah With Hollywood’s Help ‘Argo,’ Directed by Ben Affleck

At one point in “Argo,” a smart, jittery thriller about a freakish and little-known chapter of the Iranian hostage crisis, a Hollywood producer says that history starts as farce and ends up as tragedy. He seems, as someone rightly points out, to have it backward. But as a professional dissembler, he knows better. Because much like the revolutionary shock troops who seized the United States embassy on Nov. 4, 1979, and turned the crisis into gripping political theater watched by the entire world — tune in tomorrow when America goes on trial, with the special guest star the Ayatollah Khomeini — the producer knows that historical events alone don’t cut it. You need lights, camera, action.

Turning history into farce probably wasn’t what Antonio J. Mendez, a Central Intelligence Agency officer, was after when he was tapped to help free six State Department employees stranded in Tehran. While revolutionary forces were overrunning the embassy and taking hostages, including the 52 men and women who were held for 444 days, five Americans fled undetected. Eventually, they made their way to safety, including at the Canadian ambassador’s house, staying hidden (with a sixth escapee) while the C.I.A., the State Department and the president struggled to find a way to ferry them home. Mr. Mendez, a wizard of disguise, came up with the cover story for the six escapees that improbably stuck: They would pose as a Canadian movie crew.

Source: NY Times

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