Friday, May 23, 2014


In 1917, German submarine commander Hardt is looking forward to some rest and relaxation after 16 days underwater, but he is quickly called up for a secret mission—to travel to the Orkney Islands off of Scotland and make contact with an agent who will give him further instructions. Meanwhile, Anne Burnett is headed to the Islands to become a schoolmistress and get married to the island's minister, Rev. John Harris. An old lady offers to give her a ride to the train station, but once on the road, the lady uses a knockout drug on Anne, and another young woman takes her place. On the island of Hoy in the Orkneys, Hardt is dropped off and contacts Anne who gives him his assignment: with the help of Ashington, a British turncoat, Hardt will contact his submarine and have them attack a fleet of British ships. There's a slight hiccup when the Reverend shows up to meet Anne and, of course, doesn’t recognize her, though he does recognize Hardt's German uniform and says, "You must be a prisoner of war," to which Hardt replies, "No, you are." Soon, there are tender feelings between Hardt and Anne, but we learn that both Anne and Ashington are actually British agents out to befuddle the Germans. What will happen when Hardt finds out?

This WWI spy thriller was released just months before WWII broke out, and indeed watching it now, it’s easy to see it as a WWII story as there seems to have been little effort at giving the sets and costumes a period look. It also plays out like the average WWII spy story, though the setting on an isolated island is unusual. The lead actors are all very good: Conrad Veidt, best known as CASABLANCA's Major Strasser, is Hardt, a humanized German whom we actually like, even if we don't want his mission to succeed; Valerie Hobson as Anne (or, technically the spy who takes Anne's place, pictured above with Veidt) and Sebastian Stan as Ashington are fine, as is Marius Goring as a German officer. Torin Thatcher, who I know as the villain in JACK THE GIANT KILLER, one of my favorite movies as a kid, plays a German soldier. The first half plays out at leisure, allowing character development; the last section becomes more suspenseful but also a bit cluttered in terms of plot points. The print I saw on TCM was murky and scratchy, and had a few dead audio spots. [TCM]

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