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The Spy in Black (1939)

Approved  |   |  Thriller, War  |  7 October 1939 (USA)
7.0
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Ratings: 7.0/10 from 1,064 users  
Reviews: 11 user | 22 critic

A German submarine is sent to the Orkney Isles in 1917 to sink the British fleet.

Director:

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(story), (screenplay), 1 more credit »
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
...
Ashington
...
The School Mistress
Marius Goring ...
Schuster
...
Anne Burnett
Athole Stewart ...
The Rev. Hector Matthews
Agnes Lauchlan ...
Mrs. Matthews
Helen Haye ...
Mrs. Sedley
Cyril Raymond ...
The Rev. John Harris
George Summers ...
Captain Ratter
Hay Petrie ...
Engineer
Grant Sutherland ...
Bob Bratt
Robert Rendel ...
Admiral
Mary Morris ...
Chauffeuse
Margaret Moffatt ...
Kate
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Storyline

When a German U-Boat captain is sent on a spying mission to the North of Scotland during World War One, he finds more than he bargained for in his contact, the local schoolmistress. Written by Ian Harries <ih@doc.ic.ac.uk>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

Women and children first...to die...in U-Boat attack! Suicide submarine crews ravage the high seas...in history's most ruthless slaughter of innocents! See more »

Genres:

Thriller | War

Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

7 October 1939 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Spy in Black  »

Box Office

Budget:

£47,300 (estimated)
 »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

There was a U29 in the German Navy during the Great War. It was sunk in the Pentland Firth in 1915, by being rammed by HMS Dreadnought. See more »

Goofs

Identified in the credits and on her passport signature as "Anne Burnett", the newspaper report of the teachers' Orkneys appointment misnames her as "Ann Burnett", though this passes entirely without comment. See more »

Quotes

The Reverand John Harris: That medal ribbon. I don't seem to recognise it. What is it?
Captain Hardt: The Iron Cross... Second Class.
The Reverand John Harris: Second Class... then you must be a prisoner of war?
Captain Hardt: No.
[draws gun]
Captain Hardt: You are.
The Reverand John Harris: Oh dear.
See more »

Crazy Credits

The distributor in the film's opening credits is shown as: KEY TO SUCCESS Key Films Distributors Ltd. presents See more »

Connections

Featured in Arena: A Pretty British Affair (1981) See more »

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User Reviews

The first Powell-Pressburger collaboration
5 November 1999 | by (Toronto, Canada) – See all my reviews

This is an entertaining, well-made spy adventure set during World War I. Although made 60 years ago, the film has a sophisticated approach to the relationship between its three main characters. In particular, the natural attraction between the parts played by Conrad Veidt and Valerie Hobson is portrayed believably. Many of the supporting characters are also interesting; look out for Hay Petrie as the Scottish engineer aboard a ferry and an early appearance by Bernard Miles as a hotel desk clerk. Unlike the majority of British movies of this period, the film doesn't stereotype or make fun of its working-class characters.

The story has several good twists and an ironic climax. There are also some improbable coincidences, but no more than the typical James Bond movie.

Unlike Bond, however, "The Spy in Black" adopts a quite dark tone in its final 20 minutes. There is an almost tragic dignity and regret in the final scenes.

Director Michael Powell composes some interestingly-framed shots that make good use of Vincent Korda's sets. One of his favourite devices is to set a key character in sharp focus in the background while lesser parts stand or move slightly out-of-focus in the foreground. The effect is often quite striking.

This film marks Powell's first collaboration with the Hungarian writer Emeric Pressburger. The maturity of the romance between the leads and the snappiness of the dialogue are probably attributable to Pressburger's European upbringing.

Despite its age, "The Spy in Black" is well worth seeing just for the simple pleasures of a well-made entertainment executed with a little more care and imagination than usual.


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