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The film opens with a German air-raid over the skies of London, and moves to the attempts of the F.B.I. and Scotland Yard investigators trying to circumvent the attempts of a sabotage ring dedicated to impeding the flow of American airplanes and flying fortresses to Britain(on FDR's Lend-Lease program since the United States was not yet at war against Germany and Italy.) Tim Hanley is an American agent, posing as a lawyer connected with the United States Embassy in London, and Reggie Oliver, a Scotland Yard detective, posing as a music critic, who has a hard time understanding American slang. Both are keeping their eye on Carla Nillson, a famous singer, whom they suspect of espionage. They all meet in London, then in Lisbon, and eventually in New York City, where Carla sings on the radio under the auspices and sponsorship of Siudney Grenner, a wealthy candy manufacturer, who is in reality the head of the sabotage gang. Miss Nillson may or may not know that some of the songs she sings ... Written by
Les Adams <firstname.lastname@example.org>
'George Brent' to refers to Basil Rathbone as "Sherlock" about half way through the movie. Rathbone had already made a couple of Sherlock Holmes movies and was scheduled to make several more. See more »
Opposing spies, George Brent and Ilona Massey , fall in love
"International Lady" (1941) is a good spy story in which two opposing agents, American George Brent and German Ilona Massey, fall in love. The romantic elements are handled well. The tension and spy elements are a bit on the slack side. The acting is fine as is the dialog. The climactic sequence in which the good guys close in on the bad guys in a granary was a bit of a mixed bag, however, with some parts very good and other parts not so good.
Ilona is a spy, whom we observe is loyal to her Germany just as Brent is loyal to his America. She is a (relatively) good German as opposed to a Nazi. This distinction is drawn in other movies in which there is conflict between German officers and members of the SS. It's based on the idea that there are rules even of war that forbid such actions as massacres of prisoners and civilians. (These are rules violated widely violated, however, in actual warfare.) It's based on a difference in codes and actions. The good American and the good German are still conceived of as being allowed to spy on one another and obtain information to thwart the enemy, and that information may result in death, as in this movie. But killing is not Ilona's game. She's horrified when an agent who followed her to Kosleck is murdered by his men. She even says "This is murder." She's not ruthless or violent and prefers other methods of taking care of herself.
Ilona is a middle tier spy who transmits information, but she's a critical link in the chain. She's conceived to be relatively good from another angle. Her spying role up to now has led to planes being destroyed as opposed to people being killed.
How does she meet George Brent, who is an FBI agent who operates internationally by a link to the U.S. embassy? He arranges to meet her while appearing to be uninvolved in anything linked to war or spying. He has a flat near hers and their first meeting is "accidental" during an air raid. She's under suspicion from him because she wants an American visa. She's also under suspicion by the Brits at Scotland Yard (Basil Rathbone being the main field agent) because of a link between her singing visits to several cities followed by sabotage thereafter.
All of this makes Ilona a passive kind of agent. She doesn't initiate contact with Brent and doesn't attempt to deceive him actively in order to get a visa. He even tells her when they first meet that he knows all about her, meaning her career and identity, but his remark cuts deeper. He follows her and accompanies her to Lisbon on a pretext. She becomes romantically attached to him and he to her. Ilona conceals her activity, naturally, and that involves a mild degree of deception but it's not part of a plot to gain anything from Brent.
Basil Rathbone has a key part as a Scotland Yard agent. I sometimes find Rathbone's acting on the awkward side, not terribly but some, and that's the case here. Gene Lockhart, always a real pro, handles the part of the German-American who heads the sabotage operation. George Zucco captures the spotlight a bit as his ruthless assistant, and Martin Kosleck plays a German agent in England. These guys jack up any movie, including this one. Ilona Massey is fine in her role, and so is George Brent, who is as smooth an actor getting into a role as you will ever see.
The movie is written with some intelligence and attention to logic. Between the good acting and some well-written interplay, the movie is mostly pleasurable to watch.
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