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Determined, independent Bridie Quilty comes of age in 1944 Ireland thinking all Englishmen are devils. Her desire to join the IRA meets no encouragement, but a German spy finds her easy to recruit. We next find her working in a pub near a British military prison, using her sex appeal in the service of the enemy. But chance puts a really vital secret into her hands, leading to a chase involving Bridie, a British officer who's fallen for her, a German agent unknown to them both, and the police...paralleled by Bridie's own internal conflicts. Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
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I SEE A DARK STRANGER was not the first film with Deborah Kerr in it that showed her acting capacity as a lead star. She had played three roles in THE LIFE OF COLONEL BLIMP, first as the Englishwoman who marries Antoine Walbrook, then as the Englishwoman who marries Roger Livesey, then as Livesey's military driver and secretary who tries to warn him about Patrick Macnee's sneak attack during military maneuvers. But Colonel Blimp really concentrated on Livesey's role from 1900 and 1940. Kerr's performances were smothered by acclaim for Livesey.
Not so two years later with I SEE A DARK STRANGER. Although she is balanced by Trevor Howard's performance as David Byrne (the Intelligence Officer who is both pursuing her and wooing her), Kerr's Bridey is the central figure in the adventure tale.
Bridey represents (at the start) a problem that bothered and perplexed British security from 1939 to 1945. Although a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations (the replacement of the Empire) since 1931, the Republic of Eire (or Southern Ireland) was - at best - very ambivalent about it's enforced membership in this organization. It was a reminder to many that the 1922 treaty between them and the British had divided Ireland into two countries (the Northern portion firmly under Protestant control) and the southern portion still kept in durance vile. De Valera had made his own opposition to the division and restraint very openly known. But he was aware that a state of continued Civil War was no good. In the end he accepted the treaty as a temporary measure. He meant that - in 1949 he pulled Eire out of the Commonwealth.
But others were not so willing to let the treaty off so easily. The more militant arm of the Irish Republican Army did not - they would insist that Ireland was not free yet. So acts of violence continued.
De Valera was fully aware of the threat of Nazism, Fascism, and Communism in the 1920s and 1930s. He faced a homegrown fascist movement in Ireland with the Blue Shirts led by General O'Duffy. Moreover, De Valera was elected head of the League of Nations in the middle 1930s, and proceeded to make some anti-German speeches of warning regarding potential aggression. But nobody heeded him.
When war came in 1939 De Valera announced Eire was going to be neutral. It was a shock to the British, who expected a member of the Commonwealth would show it's support. It didn't. Churchill suggested (at one point) seizing the Irish ports. De Valera told Churchill that it would be considered an act of war if he did. The scheme was not put into effect.
In actual truth, though, De Valera was quite selective about his neutrality. He did not care for Nazi agents in Ireland to attack England, and arrested many of them. He also made sure that when Belfast and other cities of Northern Ireland were bombed in the blitz, Southern Irish firetrucks and firemen were sent to help put out the fires. He was, given an official neutrality, quite a good neighbor. However Churchill was unforgiving, and managed to make FDR equally so. Americans were told that De Valera favored a Nazi victory (which, of course, he didn't). Still he made blunders until the very end that angered the allies. On April 13, 1945 De Valera visited the American embassy in Dublin to pay his respects upon the death of Franklin Roosevelt the day before. On May 1, 1945 he did the same, visiting the German embassy, upon hearing of the suicide of Adolf Hitler in Berlin. This just did not sit well.
While De Valera managed to keep a cool head, the militant branch of the I.R.A. did not. British attention to the war effort under Nevil Chamberlain and Winston Churchill (in 1939 - 1940) was interrupted by a series of bombings in England, the worst (in terms of casualties) at Coventry. Peter Barnes and several other I.R.A. members were tried and executed for the bombings. It turned out Barnes had gotten some assistance from Nazi Germany.
This then is the background that Kerr's Bridey takes into the film. It is a mark of the superior writing skills of Gilliat and Launder that most of the film is an adventure comedy, rather than a serious study of anger and tragedy. Bridey is a patriotic southern Irish lass, who hates the Brits for centuries of cruelty and oppression. So she is easily manipulated by Raymond Huntley in helping him conduct what is an intelligence operation in England. But Bridey is constantly jumping the gun on cooler heads (her father - who lies about his own patriotism, or the local ex-IRA man who only wants to worry about his art gallery). She gets into deep trouble, and Howard has to try to get her out of it. Fortunately her opponents are not the brightest. In THE LADY VANISHES and NIGHT TRAIN Gilliat and Launder created Chalmers and Caldicott (Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne) to muddle through German espionage and chicanery. Now it is Captain Goodhusband and Lieutenant Spanswick (Garry Marshall and Tom Macauley) who represent the military defending the homeland. They could be the cousins of the earlier pair.
The film has nice surprises in it, including a moving death scene for Huntley, and an unexpected arrest on a train. Kerr expects to be arrested, but watches stunned by the arrest of an elderly lady (who acts without any surprise). Check her out, ladies and gentlemen - it is Katy Johnson, who would gain immortality in the 1955 version of THE LADYKILLERS as the great Mrs. Wilberforce.
I like the film, and it's balance of thrills, tragedy, and high comedy. As a patriotic Irish lass, Bridey hates the memory of the butcher of Drogheda (1654) Oliver Cromwell. Notice how she knows what to do with a can of whitewash regarding Cromwell.
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