Sunday, February 01, 2015


As World War I is breaking out, Eric (Ralph Forbes) and Jane (Betty Compson), two British citizens in Berlin, meet and fall in love in one week's time, but one morning she announces that she must leave immediately and is mysterious about the reason. We discover that she's actually a German spy and a coded message sends her on a mission to Gibraltar to obtain British war plans: she is set up to be a houseguest at the governor's house and is given the combination to an electrified safe which houses the plans, and also instructions on how to get around being electrocuted and how to pass off the plans to a contact. She is also given a new identity, that of young Ellen who hasn’t visited in fifteen years, and is coached in the details of the family that Ellen would be expected to know. Things go smoothly until Eric shows up; he's confused, of course, and she doesn’t offer a very convincing explanation. But when she goes the steal the plans, Eric appears, apparently her contact, so they're both German spies. Or are they?

An early talkie, things don’t start out promisingly as the opening farewell scene is played out in a static fashion with over-the-top melodramatic line readings—at one point, Eric even says that their situation sounds like something out of an old melodrama. But things improve a bit once the scene moves to Gibraltar, or maybe I just got used to the style. Compson (pictured above with Forbes) had a long career, mostly in silent films, and she's OK here, though her co-star Forbes is more at ease; Compson sometimes feels a little blank, as though she's not sure herself if she's a spy or a double agent, or something else altogether. Ivan Simpson is amusing as a British underling who is quite taken with Compson, though his acting style suggests a character who is a little light in his loafers. Mischa Auer is a Indian servant who plays an important role in the climax. I wasn't sure about this one at first, but I ended up enjoying it. [TCM]

No comments: