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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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Known in the U.S. as The Adventuress, I See a Dark Stranger was the vehicle
that first brought Deborah Kerr to the attention of Hollywood. Smartly
written, produced and directed by the team of Launder and Gilliat, it is a
suspense-filled and highly entertaining yarn about a high-strung Irish girl,
Bridey Quilty (Deborah Kerr) who unwittingly becomes a German spy out of
hatred for the British. Raised by a father who delighted in spinning tall
tales about his role in the 1916 battle against the English, she leaves home
at age 21 for Dublin, determined to join the Irish Republican Army and
continue her father's work.
Thinking he is part of the IRA, she falls in with a German spy named Miller (Raymond Huntley) and is used as a pawn to spring a Nazi from prison. Co-star Trevor Howard plays British Army Officer David Byrne, a British Intelligence Officer who doggedly pursues and falls in love with her in spite of her anti-English attitude, however she spends the entire film keeping him at arms length. Bridie gets deeper and deeper entangled, dumping a dead body over a cliff, forging identity papers, and dodging two overweight policemen on the Isle of Man. When she comes into possession of vital military secrets, however, it has become apparent that she is in over her head and both sides are out to get her.
I See a Dark Stranger has suspense, romance, and humor all coming together in a story that becomes lighter and lighter as it moves along. For every deadly serious moment, there are two comic ones and Bridey's character comes close to being played for laughs. However, the combination of Kerr's youthful energy (she is 24 here) and a sophisticated and witty script keeps this from being taken too seriously as either a put-down of women spies or as an attack on the Irish. Great fun.
Deborah Kerr is an Irish country lass brought up on her father's
romanticised view of his heroic struggle against the English.
She leaves home for Dublin, where she wants to join the IRA, but is recruited by the Germans.
She gets entangled with Trevor Howard, a British officer, and conflicting loyalties ensue for both.
It's a classy piece, finely acted, atmospherically shot. There's suspense, humour, romance, and a strong plot. Kerr lives up to the three-dimensional role, and the rest of the cast give sterling support.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A lovely surprise of a film from partners in eccentricity, Frank Launder and
Sidney Gilliat, which somehow manages to combine a serious, noir-tinged
thriller about espionage, war and terrorism, with wonderful character
comedy, stereotype-puncturing genuine satire, and a wilful streak of
absurdity. Deborah Kerr is absolutely marvellous as Bridie Quilty, the
headstrong daughter of a publican, teller of tall tales about his
experiences during the 1916 Irish revolution against the British. Having
accordingly developed a hatred of all things British, she dertermines to
join the IRA, and continue her father's unwarranted tradition.
She meets Miller, superficially the caricature of a bumbling Englishman, but in actual fact a ruthless Nazi agent pretending to be an IRA man. They relocate to a sleepy English village beside a jail, from which Miller plans to spring a terrorist with information. Bridie becomes a barmaid, and dates a sergeant from whom she extracts vital information. On the day of the plan, an Englishman, Baynes, arrives at the pub. Miller suspects him of being an intelligence officer, and orders Bridie to use her feminine wiles to distract him.
Everything goes as planned, but the escapees are eventually caught. Miller, fatally wounded, manages to flee, and tells Bridie that the terrorist's notebook, which contains classified military information, is hidden in the Isle of Man. She fails to meet a contact on a train, and has to go to the Isle herself, all the time followed by Baynes. The notebook contains detailed information about the Normandy landings, which, in the hands of the Nazis, could spell the end for D-Day. Bridie realises the extent of her ideological naivite, but soon both the British army and the republicans are after her.
This brilliant mixture of suspense and whimsy works on so many levels. It is an excellent thriller, whose human details are magnified by the global implications of events. The plot is rarely clear, and Launder consistently tries to undermine it with playful exagerration and preposterous set-ups (the climax involving alarm-clock smugglers masked as funeral mourners is hilarious) reminiscent of Hitchcock - Launder and Gilliat wrote the Master's best British film, THE LADY VANISHES. There is a genuine noir dread darkening this playfulness, ominous shadows, cramped interiors and suffocating frames engulfing characters.
It also plays cleverly with national stereotypes. STRANGER opens with a genuinely moving spiel from Bridie's father about his harrowing experiences of 1916, but, as everybody in Ireland knows, stories like this are ten-a-penny, and pure waffle. Fired with revolutionary fervour, Bridie visits a leading figure in the rebellion, a fearsome comrade of her father, who, of course, has never heard of him. Far from being a hot-headed idealist, he is the mild-mannered, pragmatic director of an art gallery, horrified at Bridie's intentions, scandalously supporting the Treaty, which, even today, is ragarded by many in Ireland as a compromise which sold out the North.
One of Launder's tactics is to invoke stereotypes only to knock them down - the aforementioned smuggling scene is an excellent example. Indeed, one of STRANGER'S themes is the breaking away from stereotype, perceived ideology, histories constructed by vested interests. Bridie begins the film eavesdropping on her father speaking, outside the community he belongs to, silently repeating his words - the film charts her growth, into a person in her own right, whose strong personality rejects all controlling bonds.
Similarly with Baynes, stiff-upper-lipped military man prepared to dob in his true love for King and country. He too is bound by received ideas of duty and history, which is beautifully mocked throughout the film, especially in the Tweedledum and Tweedledee figures of Goodhusband and Spanswick. Indeed all extremists, terrorists and Imperialists alike, are either ruthlessly or idiotically inhuman.
STRANGER achieves a satisfactory conclusion without ever betraying character - Bridie isn't going to change all that quickly. Her personal growth is linked to the form of the film, which opens with two authorial voiceovers - one the narrator, who playfully guides the film at the beginning; secondly her father, telling the stories that will decide her destiny; while she, as I mentioned, speaks mutely. As the film continues, there is a greater dependence on, and faith in, her voiceovers, to the extent that her thoughts actually spill out into the world of the plot.
Another interesting motif in the film is the difference in Irish and English perception of the same things - for instance in Ireland one is reared loathing Cromwell as a genocidal maniac, whereas in Britain he is a radical opponent of monarchy, tyranny and privilege. It is strange that such a percptive film should have no mention of religion, but then that is probably its final subversive sleight of hand. There are quite a few people in the North today who could benefit from watching this sublime film.
Deborah Kerr (as in star) as the trailer says is usually thought of in almost matronly fashion since she's brought strength and dignity to so many roles as a veteran performer. Here you see her in younger days. She's a wild and bewitching Irish rose, marvelous as the brassy Bridey Kiltie, hater of all things English. Buoyed by Kerr, Trevor Howard and a wonderful British-Irish cast,this film makes you feel like you're right back there in UK during the war. Only you're not flying off to punish the Germans. It's a homefront thing. The movie is more drama than mystery but it's enthralling all the same with humor and style to burn. Among the great characters are a pair of British officers, Captain Goodhusband (Garry Marsh) and Lt. Spanswick(Tom Macaulay)who come along to steal the film in their portrayal as oh-so-very-English middle-aged officers.
I See a Dark Stranger finds Deborah Kerr as Irish colleen Bridie Quilty
trying to get even with the English for all manner of deprivations
visited on her people. Unfortunately she's born during World War II and
her own government is scrupulously maintaining its neutrality because
they recognize a Nazi victory wouldn't be good for them either.
Deb's been brought up on tales of the Rebellion of 1916 by her family and her first attempt to join the Irish Republican Army by that time an illegal group meets with a rebuff. She looks up an old IRA fighter whose name Dad's dropped for years and finds he's now a museum curator and a believer in the constitutional and diplomatic solutions for remaining problems with the British. Brefni O'Rourke plays Michael Callaghan the old Irish freedom fighter who tries to disillusion Deborah with no success.
She doesn't give up so easily and before long she's really in over her head involved with Nazi spies headed by Raymond Huntley. But she also has a British officer, Trevor Howard, who does convince her in the end that not all the British are Oliver Cromwell while falling for her at the same time.
I See A Dark Stranger was well received in its day, but I think it has a problem of varying degree of mood that isn't explained. The film can't seem to make up its mind as to just how light hearted the story should be. It should have come down on one side or the other.
Still Deborah makes a spirited Bridie and this film together with Black Narcissus are the ones responsible for her going to Hollywood and a long term and honored career which sad to say was not rewarded with an Oscar except a life time achievement one. Trevor Howard is a stalwart leading man and Tom McCauley and Garry Marsh play a couple of Colonel Blimps in training on the Isle of Man who nearly steal the film.
Deborah Kerr is a determined Irish lass who hates the British and
Oliver Cromwell in "I See a Dark Stranger," a 1946 film also starring
Trevor Howard and Raymond Huntley. There are also a couple of names in
the cast worth noting and watching for: Celia Johnson (The Ladykillers)
and Joan Hickson, a well-known Miss Marple is uncredited as a hotel
Kerr also narrates the thoughts of her character, Bridey, as she leaves her small town for Dublin in 1944, when she turns 21, determined to join the Irish Republican Army. She is rebuffed but eventually recruited by a German spy. Bridey goes to work at a pub near a British prison for the military. She winds up with a valuable document and, since her contact is dead, she has no idea what to do with it. The Germans are after her and later, so are the bumbling police. On top of this, she has a British officer (Howard) who likes her and seems to be following her around.
If you're British or Irish and watch this film, especially if you know something about the British and Irish in World War II, this film will resonate with you in a way that it cannot for Americans. Ireland did not support the British in the war; they remained neutral. That was the country itself. The people in it were divided. The militant part of the IRA bombed different parts of England with the help of the Nazis, for instance. Also, Eamon DeValera, for all the neutrality, didn't want Nazi agents in Ireland and had them arrested.
"I See a Dark Stranger" vacillates between comedy and drama easily, aided by Kerr's dead serious performance which makes some of the moments even funnier. Bridey has no sense of humor. She's great because an advance by a man doesn't just insult her - it infuriates her - and all of her emotions are that way. The last moment of the film made me laugh out loud. Her thought process told in narration is wonderful. In this movie, she reminds me very much of Maureen O'Hara who often had that same no-nonsense air about her. Trevor Howard gives a performance which offsets Kerr's intensity very well.
A young beauty when she made this, this film apparently brought Kerr to the attention of Hollywood as it should have. If you're a fan of hers, don't miss this delightful early performance in this very good movie.
Isn't she just absolutely gorgeous! This is an amazing example of film noir that also manages to include a good deal of humour - ironically about times and events that were not particularly humorous. Debora Kerrs character is a beautiful and somewhat naive young lady - but decidedly full of spirit! and operating on the philosophy that 'my enemy's enemy must be my friend'. The film is supported with the introduction of a wide range of characters as the film unfolds. Viewed many times, I could always do so again. For location buffs - The English town scenes are filmed at Dunster (Somerset)- The medieval yarn market is clearly visible in the background, and I adore her assertion that, 'it all depends which side I'm being neutral on!' Perfect.
I SEE A DARK STRANGER depends heavily on the central performance of
DEBORAH KERR to carry its story about a naive young Irish woman who has
grown up hating the British, thanks to her father's romanticized view
of the Irish rebellion. She travels to Ireland to volunteer her
services as a spy for the IRA, is promptly rebuffed and reminded that
"things are neutral now", but is spotted by RAYMOND HUNTLEY who wants
to use her services for his own espionage purposes.
What's so wonderful about the film, called THE ADVENTURESS in the U.S., is that it combines humor with drama, mystery and suspense, always with Kerr's strong performance as Bridie Quilty as the center of attention. Kerr uses her facial expressions expertly, especially in close-ups where we can actually see what she is thinking. It's a performance on par with her work in BLACK NARCISSUS, where close-ups allowed her to fully reveal a character's intentions and motivations.
TREVOR HOWARD is the Englishman instantly attracted to her who gradually comes to understand that she's involved in something way beyond her scope and is soon just as involved in all the intrigue as she is. There are unexpected twists and turns throughout and some very droll moments of comedy when a funeral procession turns out to be something quite unexpected.
The weaknesses only are apparent during the last fifteen minutes with an extended fight scene that borders on slapstick before Kerr and Howard are allowed a quieter moment of romance. And then the final zinger involving a hotel sign that infuriates Kerr--but I'll let that remain hidden so you can enjoy the moment.
Summing up: Highly satisfactory British film which won Deborah Kerr a N.Y. Film Critics Award as Best Actress in 1947--also for BLACK NARCISSUS.
Trivia note: David TOMLINSON and JOAN HICKSON both have brief roles, but you have to be awfully quick to catch a glimpse of Hickson.
Enjoyed seeing how young Deborah Kerr appeared in this picture at the age of twenty-four years. Deborah plays the role as Birdie Quilty who works in her families pub in England and heard all kinds of stories told by people who visited the pub about how Ireland fought against the British years ago and she starts to form a hated toward the English Government. Birdie becomes of age and wants to go to Dublin, Ireland to live and work and she meets up with some very strange people who have listened to Birdie talk about England and they decide to utilize her hatred towards the British Nation for their own benefits. Birdie finds herself in some very difficult situations until she meets up with a British Lt. David Baynes, (Trevor Howard) who seems to fall madly in love with Birdie at first seeing her and on other dates, it becomes serious. However, Birdie has so many dark secrets that she does not want to show any affections towards David and this still does not stop David from following her from one country to another. This is a very great film with plenty of funny moments and at other times can be very dark and mysterious. Enjoy.
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