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Secret Agent (1936)


Hitchcock! Hitchcock! Hitchcock!

Aww... hugging 'the other man', isn't that nice!
Aww... hugging 'the other man', isn't that nice!

Genre: Mystery Thriller Drama Romance (UK)

Starring: John Gielgud (Around The World In Eighty Days; The Elephant Man), Peter Lorry (The Man Who Knew Too Much; Arsenic And Old Lace)

Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock (Spellbound; Notorious)

Overview: Before the start of the First World War, a British novelist is made spy and teamed up with a woman, their cover as man and wife. Their mission is to uncover and assassinate a German agent.

Performance:

I got this feeling like Hitch didn't really care all that much about properly directing the players for this one. Perhaps it's yet again my own distain for the foppish British theatrics that happen from time to time. Either way, it's nice to see Peter Lorry again, and though I was usually less than impressed, I very much enjoyed the microcosmic perspective of the wife, played by Madeleine Carroll.
Rating: 7

Cinematography:

The thing about movies made in this era is after you've seen one wardrobe, you've seen 'em all. Whenever there's a social scene, it's always flamboyant dresses and tuxedos, so it's not that impressive. The suspense scenes seemed less than engrossing, and though there was the occasional beauty for the eye, be they dramatic crashes or slowly-stalking assassinations, there was just something missing.
Rating: 7

Script:

You know, when you come into possession of a Chinese box set of forty of Hitchcock's films, maybe you should expect that from time to time the sound quality isn't going to be that great. The script didn't seem to be anything all that special, but I will note one great scenes where man and wife are dancing, and discussing a killing. The woman is all about the thrill of spydom and the excitement of risking it all. Her false husband quickly reminds her that the grim task he needs to embark on is anything but glorious. The moralising, the guilt, the doubt, these are things that make the writing decent.
Rating: 7

Plot:

I get the strange suspicion that Hitchcock may not have had all the power he wanted to wield when making this film. It seemed far too tightly reigned. I could be wrong of course. Hitch could simply have been on a lull, but a story about a man turned spy and trying to find the bad guy then whack him should be so boring, the intrigue scenes should have been longer, the end should have been less Deux Ex Machina, and the final dénouement seemed all too contrived.
Rating: 6

Mood:

It's interesting how old habits die hard. We have this film that followed on the heels of the insanely popular The 39 Steps, and it's almost like Hitch took a vacation for his hard work. It had a mildly odd romantic side to it, and though a serious film, we have this weird, short little Peter Lorry wandering around as some sort of kicking boy. I'm surprised he didn't get instantly and forever pigeon-holed as the dorky comic relief. Yeah, not quite the hit in the atmosphere department.
Rating: 6

No wonder the star was pissed off at with role, even the publicity photos have the wife-chasing bachelor instead of him!
No wonder the star was pissed off at with role, even the publicity photos have the wife-chasing bachelor instead of him!

Overall Rating: 66% (Don't Rush to Find Ze Microfeelm)
Aftertaste:

I'm having so much trouble finding Hitchcock in his films that I've given up. I've only seen him once in Blackmail. It makes me cry.

Well holy jumpin'. Wanna know why I couldn't find him in this? It's cause he's not there. Turns out he didn't cameo in all his films. Imagine searching for Waldo for hours when you realize you're reading Tintin. God.

| | | | | | | |

I really enjoy this film. I think it's one of the slickest that Hitchcock made in England.

I loved the whole back and forth sequence when "The General" and Ashenden are hiking in the mountains to kill their target, while at his home his dog is howling because it can sense its master is in danger.

Also loved the chase through the chocolate factory and the train wreck at the end.

Of course, I also have the good fortune to still be in possesion of a really good quality print of the film (from Criterion in the late '80s) that I taped off of TV waaay back in the day. As you and I have said before, sometimes the quality of the film print makes all the difference.

All in all, I feel that this film is the work of a director whose much more sure of himself than Hitchock was in the early 30's. 

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