In 1780 Major John Boulton is recruited by Colonial intelligence as a counterspy who will feign desertion to the British forces. His mission is to discover the identity of an American traitor with the code name Gustavus. Although prominent Tory Dr. Odell suspects Boulton of being a double agent, the spy wins the friendship and respect of British spymaster Major John Andre and, in doing so, discovers that the traitor is none other than American hero, General Benedict Arnold, who is planning to surrender the key colonial position of West Point to the English. Written by
"Blow the Man Down" is heard on the soundtrack during a scene involving the man o' war. The sea shanty was composed anonymously in the 1860s, eighty-odd years after the incidents in this film. See more »
Maj. John Andre:
[to Dr. Odell]
You know, doctor, a man shows his character by the way he handles a sword.
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Somehow, despite numerous screenings on TCM U.K. over the years, I never bothered with this one; then, when it seemed to drop off their schedule, I acquired THE SCARLET COAT along with a few other genuinely rare Cornel Wilde efforts on DVD-R (culled, ironically, from one such TV broadcast) through a friend! Anyway, I now begrudge all the more the fact of having overlooked the film for so long since I enjoyed it a good deal; incidentally, for some odd reason, I have never been particularly enthused of pictures set during the American War of Independence so that may well be the reason why I did not actively pursue this one. Still, after the initial disappointment of it being a pan-and-scan presentation of a Cinemascope title, I found myself drawn into the proceedings especially in view of the unusual espionage element (which never fails to grip me) but also, equally unexpected, a literate script (Karl Tunberg would subsequently receive sole credit for William Wyler's mammoth BEN-HUR ); accordingly, characterization is well above-average for this sort of thing. Another obvious draw, then, were the principal actors: Wilde as the patriot ordered to defect (by his superior, John McIntire) to the British ranks in order to unearth the mole who is passing them information about the enemy's movements (which turns out to be a prominent military figure, Benedict Arnold, played by Robert Douglas though, that, in itself was a bit of a giveaway even to viewers unfamiliar with American history!); co-star Michael Wilding is the English officer who takes Wilde under his wing (against the better judgment of doctor comrade George Sanders, amusing in characteristic cynical mode) and suffers the consequences of this blind faith albeit yielding mutual respect (which not even the woman, Anne Francis, who comes between them can negate!) with his life. For the record, I almost gave this a *** rating but decided against this given the fact that the film loses some momentum in its last lap due to the (necessarily) involved plotting, an unfortunate lapse into cliché (Wilde is thrown into prison by his own side at the proverbial eleventh-hour, thus allowing the traitor Arnold to flee and Wilding to be intercepted and face the music all alone!) and over length (even if a fade-out clinch between Wilde and Francis should not have been amiss, to counterpoint the ensuing glumness concerning Wilding's fate). All in all, an interesting, enjoyable and good-looking historical piece encompassing suspense, romance, action (the highlights are perhaps the surprising swashbuckling bouts) and tragedy, the whole being efficiently handled by reliable craftsman Sturges.
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