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The Spy in Black (1939)

 -  Thriller | War  -  7 October 1939 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.0/10 from 1,031 users  
Reviews: 11 user | 21 critic

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



(story), (screenplay), 1 more credit »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Captain Hardt
Sebastian Shaw ...
The School Mistress
Marius Goring ...
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 ...
Grant Sutherland ...
Bob Bratt
Robert Rendel ...
Mary Morris ...
Margaret Moffatt ...


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 <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis




Thriller | War


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Parents Guide:





Release Date:

7 October 1939 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Spy in Black  »

Box Office


£47,300 (estimated)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The password that Hardt is to use for his contact is the opening line of Heine's poem Die Lorelei, in which a beautiful woman who lures sailors on the rocks is used as a symbol of homesickness. When his crew joke about him spouting love poetry to a woman in the dark, they miss half of the point. See more »


When the plotters arrive at the cottage to change over the teachers, the car pulls in. But when they go to dump the body, the car is facing the opposite direction. See more »


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

Opening credits prologue: KIEL BASE OF THE GERMAN GRAND FLEET 1917 See more »


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

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User Reviews

Good old British entertainment
21 February 2004 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

This excellent birth of "The Archers" just managed its London premiere the very week WWII was declared in Britain and all places of entertainment were ordered to close,albeit temporarily. Second of all Veidt was and is my favourite actor,having seen all but some rare silents from "Caligari" onwards. He was the definitive popular German swine(Eric Von,notwithstanding)although he did play many other parts - Jew Suss/Under The Red Robe,a mediaeval swashbuckler, the mysterious stranger in "Passing of the 3rd Floor,Back" or the aviator in "FP1"(English version). Shortly after fleeing the Nazis (whom he loathed) in the 30s he gladly set up a home near Korda's famous Denham studios and was a doting father to his daughter while soon becoming the tall and cultured idol of thousands of women.

He was also a Korda favourite and this first pairing with then one of Britain's favourite glamour girls.Valerie Hobson, following her brief success with Universal,he was rushed into another naval adventure,"Contraband" equally entertaining. Like,say, Hitchcock's "The Lady Vanishes", this is great escapist stuff with a mystery character at the centre of the story. But one point in the movie has always bothered me - just how does one manhandle a motor cycle up the steep conning tower of a submarine? We are never shown how Veidt managed it!

By the same token, how did Erik in "Phantom of the Opera" manage to get his organ/piano into his hideout amongst the Paris sewers? After all, we see the problem he had with the small boat! Curiously, Veidt's Nazi officer in "Escape" & "Casablanca" both died in the middle of a phone call while attempting the prevent an escape.

"Spy" has its share of amusing lines & allusions. On his entry at the start he & fellow submariner get seated at a crowded fashionable hotel anticipating a slap-up meal after a long period at sea only to be told almost every dish is "off" - even for naval officers. They leave in disgust & still starved. A while later when Hardt has been secretly landed on the Orkneys with motorcycle,late at night & having avoided discovery.he meets his contact V Hobson (a British agent posing as a local teacher)at home. Entering the kitchen he stops short & stares hard,alarming her and utters the word "boota!" in some disbelief which she interprets as "no,"butter!".and as he proceeds to dig with relish into a side of ham he remarks "These English - they are so long without their food!" The time was WW1 and an ironic comment on the German shortages - but the film's settings were equally appropriate to forthcoming WW2 conditions in Britain. During the film's production all the menacing signs of 1938/1939 were there but it seemed only Churchill was convinced of the inevitable when everyone wanted to believe Chamberlain. The film's scheduled release to London's Odeon cinema did not anticipate the decisive act of Germany's invasion of Poland.

Sadly, there was a real-life similarity in both Veidt's & Bing Crosby's sudden collapse just following a game of golf. Veidt had barely turned 50 as a Warner's star and still had lots to offer.

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