During the first world war, novelist Edgar Brodie is sent to Switzerland by the Intelligence Service. He has to kill a German agent. During the mission he meets a fake general first and then Elsa Carrington who helps him in his duty. Written by
Claudio Sandrini <email@example.com>
Alfred Hitchcock convinced John Gielgud to play the lead by describing the hero as a modern-day Hamlet. Gielgud, however, ended up hating that his character was an enigma and felt Hitchcock made the villain more charming than the hero. See more »
Dates given in the story are out of sequence. After starting "May 10, 1916" (title), a telegram received later appears to be dated "3/4/16". A newspaper near the end of the film is dated "Tuesday, September 21, 1916," when that date actually occurred on a Thursday. Afterwards a postcard bears the date of "April 2." See more »
When the topic of spy movies comes up, James Bond is usually one of the first names to arise. But even spy movies had a beginning, and sure enough, in the first couple decades of cinema, who was there making spy movies? Alfred Hitchcock.
Like the other spy movies he did, (Take Torn Curtain and Topaz for instance, two of his later works. How much later? Nearly 40 years later), Secret Agent is a spy movie without lots of explosions or car chases or shootouts. Instead it is about a man who goes undercover to break up a potentially disastrous international agenda of some kind, and along the way falls in love with his partner and realizes that he's not up to the task of murdering someone.
This 1936 movie is another in Hitchcock's decade-long run of British talkies: highly-contrasted black and white, under 90 minutes generally, and devoid of major stars (except for Peter Lorre, who appears in this movie two years after he did The Man Who Knew Too Much).
But unlike many of the movies surrounding it (Young and Innocent, The 39 Steps), this one isn't quite as good. Not that Secret Agent is a bad movie, far from it:
The directing is fine, and the church-murder scene is a beautiful mix of sound and picture. Lorre is much like the male version of Bette Davis - overacting and proud of it. His role as the womanizing yet clever "General" is much lighter than his usual horror-laced stuff, and he still pulls it off with ease. The leads are equally good. And the humor laced throughout is genuinely funny. (Note that, even in 1936, it is obvious that Hitchcock was already looking for the actress that would be fulfilled in Grace Kelly - the strong, feisty, beautiful blonde leading lady.)
But there's nothing here to just make the jaw drop and the eyes widen. It is a good movie, and from a director that has had whole decades worth of *great* movies, it just seems subpar. A previous commentor was right: This was the movie for Hitchcock to remake in the 1950s (with color and Cary Grant and Grace Kelly - heck, maybe even a minor role for Jimmy Stewart), not The Man Who Knew Too Much, which was one of his best British films.
Overall, it is good and worth the watch - especially for Hitchcock fans, but it's just not quite *there*.
21 of 28 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?