Secret Agent (1936) – full review!

Secret Agent (1936) – full review!

One of director Alfred Hitchcock’s weaker early films loosely based on two of W. Somerset Maugham’s Ashenden stories and a play by Campbell Dixon based on a third; Charles Bennett adapted them for the screen Ian Hay and Jesse Lasky Jr. provided additional dialogue and the director’s wife Alma Reville also contributed. It’s a mystery thriller with a romance drama angle between John Gielgud’s and Madeleine Carroll’s characters; Peter Lorre plays a typically unique character a womanizing assassin. Robert Young plays a debonair American gentleman; his role is additionally against type for the actor (as is Gielgud’s).

Richard Ashenden is a British novelist who’s just returned from World War I a hero. However his death is reported by his country’s government so that they can utilize his talents as a spy. He’s to travel to Switzerland to stop a spy working for the opposition from making it into Germany. His cover includes a wife Elsa (Carroll) and he’s assigned an attache who’s to do the dirty work (e.g. execute the foreign agent) the General (Lorre). In the process they (actually the General) accidentally kill the wrong man (Percy Marmont) a kindly old man. This so sickens Ashenden and Elsa who’d only been looking for adventure that they decide to quit the service and make a life together for themselves. But just as they’re about to leave the General informs Brodie Ashenden’s undercover name that he’s made a valuable contact (through Lilli Palmer’s character) in a chocolate factory. While the two of them are chasing around those environs flaky Elsa decides to run off with an American Robert Marvin (Young) who’d been flirting with her. Brodie and the General discover that Marvin is the foreign spy and assume when they Elsa boarding a train for Germany with him that she’s somehow figured it out too. They board the train as well and the truth is revealed a short time before the train is attacked by the British who weren’t taking any chances in letting Marvin cross the border. A spectacular train crash kills the spy and his intended assassin while Ashenden & Elsa survive to be together in the end.

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