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The Spy in Black (1939)

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



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Anne Burnett
Athole Stewart ...
The Rev. Hector Matthews
Agnes Lauchlan ...
Mrs. Matthews
Mrs. Sedley
Cyril Raymond ...
George Summers ...
Captain Ratter
Hay Petrie ...
Grant Sutherland ...
Bob Bratt
Robert Rendel ...
Margaret Moffat ...
Kate (as 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 <ih@doc.ic.ac.uk>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Is this beauty friend or foe...as U-Boat terror at sea is directed by unknown master spies on land? Out of Europe's blackout of peace flashes the inside story of ruthless submarine warfare and incredible world-wide espionage! See more »


Thriller | War


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Parents Guide:






Release Date:

7 October 1939 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Spy in Black  »


Box Office


£47,300 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


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 »


During the closeup of the kidnapping on the train about 15 minutes into the movie, the rapidly passing scenery is clearly being projected onto a screen as the screen edges are visible, and the peoples' shadows are also projected onto the screen. 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

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


Referenced in Enigma (2001) See more »

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User Reviews

An Intriguing Little Thriller with a Difference
3 May 2002 | by See all my reviews

Just wanted to second the other user's comment.

I saw this last night as part of a Michael Powell/Emeric Pressberger retrospective underway at the American Cinemetheque. There are some unlikely aspects to the plot, but on the whole this is well crafted WWI thriller with a remarkable level of moral complexity, especially given that it was made and released just as England was entering a second war against Germany.

The protagonist (hero?) (played by the extraordinary Conrad Veidt) is a German officer on a spy mission and he is, in many respects, a quite admirable character. For the first half of the film, it's almost entirely from his point of view. It's hard to imagine Hollywood filmmakers EVER having the confidence that Powell and Pressberger clearly had in the intelligence of their audience, allowing them to actually like and admire an enemy agent.

While "The Spy in Black" eventually does come down squarely on the side of the English, the agents of the Kaiser come off only as perhaps a hair more ruthless than those fighting for king and country.

Of course, the Germany that England would be fighting within a few a few months would be far, far worse. This film is a potent reminder that while World War II might have a morally clear "good" war because of the vast evil of the Nazis, World War I was a horse of a far grayer color.

With sophisticated, occasionally black humor, this is a neat bit of old-fashioned movie entertainment with some genuinely intriguing differences. Enthusaistically recommended.

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