The English-born Dorothy Mackaill was a silent-film actress who looked stately rather than beautiful. Her voice was not impressive in early sound films. In 'Convoy', she plays Sylvia Dodge: a New York society lady in 1917 who is recruited by a Secret Service agent (ominously known only as Smith) to befriend Ernest Drake. It seems that Drake is really Ernst von Drachenfels, a spy for the Kaiser.
Drake is indeed sending coded messages to the Kaiser's agents, but his method is implausible and far too elaborate. He routinely has large bouquets delivered to lady acquaintances. Sylvia discovers the spy's secret: although the ladies themselves are not spies, Drake's choice of which type of flower to send to which lady's address is an elaborate code. His henchmen observe the deliveries, and relay these details to U-boat captains via wireless.
The most interesting scenes in 'Convoy' use authentic wartime footage of U-boats attacking British and American convoys: these starkly realistic scenes feel as if they're a completely different movie from this overwrought soap-opera plot.
Thanks to Sylvia, von Drachenfels is exposed as a spy ... but contrived circumstances manage to make Sylvia appear to be his accomplice. Certain facts, if made known, would clear Sylvia ... but Smith pressures her into keeping silent, claiming security concerns. Rather implausibly, Sylvia is arrested and charged with espionage. She is convicted, and proceeds to serve a long sentence ... even though she could clear herself at any time.
SPOILERS NOW. There is of course a happy ending, which is no surprise. Sylvia's brother (played by Buster Collier) obtains the facts that clear her, and she is reunited with her fiancee (who only briefly lost faith in her patriotism). The fiancee is played by the dull and well-named Lawrence Gray. Dorothy Mackaill is vapid in the central role, and Ian Keith is in full Snidely Whiplash mode as the unsympathetic Secret Service agent. Eddie Gribbon provides some unfunny comic relief. By far, the best performance here is given by Lowell Sherman as the suave spy. Sherman usually played epicene cads: he was probably the silent screen's nearest anticipation of George Sanders. Interestingly, Lowell Sherman was one of the co-hosts of the fatal San Francisco party that ruined Roscoe Arbuckle's career, yet Sherman's career was not affected by the scandal. I'll rate 'Convoy' 5 out of 10, mostly for that naval warfare footage.
4 of 5 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?