Madeline Goddard is a smart young woman who owns a fashionable dress shop in neutral Sweden during World War One. Though she is grateful to avoid the fighting, the courageous and stunningly pretty Madeline feels she should be doing more for her native France. She volunteers to work as an intelligence agent, smuggling maps and other documents within the fashionable garments she ships to wealthy customers in London. Madeline's activities are so successful that British intelligence soon comes to rely on her as their main pipeline for information. At about this time, a British official in Sweden asks her to cultivate the friendship of Baron Karl Von Marwitz, a tall, distinguished-looking German officer who is in charge of counter-espionage activities at the German embassy. Unknown to Madeline, the baron has been sent to Sweden for the express purpose of discovering and eliminating the top British spy who has been smuggling out German war plans. When Madeline and Karl meet, each recognizes... Written by
There's not really much to this amuse-bouche of two espionage agents in Sweden during World War I. The German agent, the sophisticated and aristocratic Conrad Veidt, and the pouting delicate French agent, Vivien Leigh, are both quite good. I don't find Conrad Veidt particularly handsome but he has some properties that seem to appeal to women -- tall, polite, unspeakably rich, unflappable, and speaks with a Continental accent. He wears a monocle too, as if the rest weren't enough. I don't find him attractive but I'd like to be him.
Vivien Leigh is is a genuine stunner. There isn't a plane of her features or an angle of the camera that detracts from her beauty. She can act too. Here, she changes from curt and business-like to winsome and yearning, and she does it convincingly. Years later, as Blanche DuBois, she swooped around dressed in frills and slowly going mad in New Orleans' French Quarter. As a worn-out Southern belle, she was just as convincing. She had the misfortune of suffering for years from a disabling bipolar disorder and finally the tuberculosis that killed her.
The set design is noticeably good, even extravagant in the dining room scenes. They're enough to make any normal man's mouth water -- sitting across from a lovely woman in a fancy restaurant, drinking champagne and dreaming of Aphrodite. Yum.
The story itself left me confused. Let's see. We're most often in Stockholm during the war. There are German spies. There are French spies. There are British spies. And all of them seem to be spying on each other. It sounds practically MODERN. Vivien Leigh is a French agent. But why is she smuggling information from Paris to Sweden of all places? Why does the French spy network in Stockholm give a damn about the next German offensive. And who do they transmit it to -- French headquarters in Paris? And why does Leigh's comic janitor send secret semaphore signals out his window to someone else? When the broth is reduced, you have a tale of two lovers representing conflicting ideologies and the good one wins. "Ninotchka" did it with more flair but the intent, of course, was different. In 1937 no one in Britain was laughing much about Germany or Hitler's shenanigans.
It's in no way a bad movie. Some of the dialog is keen. In the Leigh's boutique, a dresser and a rich man's mistress have a brief exchange. Paramour: "Some men just like to buy a girl everything." Dresser: "With a girl like you, it's easy to understand why." Both the ladies giggle -- and then the mistress's grin turns into a nasty frown. Well, it loses something when it's put into print.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?