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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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
St Magnus (the name of the steamer sailing from Longhope for St Romness and Thurso during the closing stages of the film) is the Patron Saint of Orkney. There have been several ships in that area with the name St Magnus. See more »
In the German submarine, the officers refer to depths in feet, and the depth gauge is calibrated in feet. On a German ship, depths would be measured in meters. See more »
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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