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I Was a Spy (1933)

 -  Drama | War  -  15 December 1933 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.0/10 from 87 users  
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During World War I, a young nurse in a hospital in German-occupied Belgium is secretly feeding military information to the British. Complicating matters is the guilt she feels when she has ... See full summary »


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Complete credited cast:
Madeleine Carroll ...
Martha Cnockhaert
Herbert Marshall ...
Commandant Oberaertz
Gerald du Maurier ...
Donald Calthrop ...
May Agate ...
Mme. Cnockhaert
Eva Moore ...
Canteen Ma
Martita Hunt ...
Aunt Lucille
Nigel Bruce ...
George Merritt ...
Captain Reichman
Anthony Bushell ...


During World War I, a young nurse in a hospital in German-occupied Belgium is secretly feeding military information to the British. Complicating matters is the guilt she feels when she has to treat the German casualties inflicted as a result of the information she's passed on, and the fact that the local German commandant is falling in love with her. Written by

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Drama | War


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Release Date:

15 December 1933 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

I Was a Spy  »

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Princess March
Music by Charles Renard
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User Reviews

Struggling against the brutal Hun
15 July 2013 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

Why do those Germans keep doing it? They tried to invade Paris in 1870, they tried in 1914, and they succeeded in 1940. What is it about French food that drives the Krauts so crazy that they feel they have to invade Paris so often? Can't they just go as tourists and eat in the best restaurants without bringing all their tanks and jackboots with them? 'Dirty swine!', as Herbert Marshall says in this film about two British prisoners, but which we find more appropriate to direct towards the wurst-lovers themselves. Here the heroic Madeleine Carroll plays 'Laura', code name for a Belgian nurse spying for the Allies against the Hun. The character is a portrayal of the real life Marthe Cnockhaerdt (1892-1966), and follows the true story very closely (although her two years in prison is skipped over so that her incarceration appears to be but a matter of days). Herbert Marshall gives what could be described as an 'ardent' performance, as he attempts to persuade us that he is in love with Madeleine Carroll, which he clearly found impossible. It is not for nothing that she was known as 'the ice queen of the screen'. Marshall was not really suited to these romantic roles, and was always best when being detached and sardonic, at which he truly excelled. Conrad Veidt here plays a formal and implacable German officer and lacks all those warm and sympathetic qualities which suited him so much better, and which came to the fore in such as films as CONTRABAND (1940, see my review). Of course this film is set during World War One, so we do not have Nazis yet, but we do have spiked helmets (which it is said the German soldiers wore in order to protect their pointy heads). It is an interesting historical irony that Carroll here plays a dedicated war nurse, whereas in real life Carroll did indeed become a dedicated war nurse in the following world war. In the film, she also becomes a spy, but in real life she presumably did not. But then, where is the dividing line between fiction and reality? If the fictitious nurse can become a real nurse, then it only takes one small further step for her to start smuggling those little notes written on cigarette paper. So perhaps Carroll didn't smoke. It was educationally useful, I am sure, for the English public to see this film set in Belgium, and to observe the suffering of the Belgians under the ruthless German occupation, considering that only a few years later this would all be happening for real once again. The Belgians and the Germans have since made up, however, as the Fourth Reich has its headquarters these days in Brussels, and I have heard it said that the obliging Belgians keep hot sauerkraut permanently ready for any surprise visit by die Kaiserin, who with her pudding face needs continual feeding up. This is a very fine, sensible, but gently old-fashioned spy film directed by the highly capable Victor Saville, whose most famous film was probably Kipling's KIM (1950). The affable Edmund Gwenn is very good as the Burgomaster of the small Belgian town, and it is interesting to see the legendary Gerald du Maurier (father of Daphne) as the military hospital's doctor, and what I noticed particularly about him were his elegant hands. The film also has a good cameo for Nigel Bruce, later to become so well known as Dr. Watson in so many Sherlock Holmes films. Here he plays Scottie, a captured British soldier who is wounded but escapes. He had only been in films for three years, and is still sprightly even though he was already aged 38. It is always interesting to catch such early glimpses of people who later become prominent in other roles.

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