Mystery, Drama, War | 86 mins | Released: 1936
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: John Gielgud, Madeleine Carroll, Robert Young, Peter Lorre, Florence Kahn, Charles Carson, Lilli Palmer
Our Rating: 7
Black & White
Gielgud plays a British officer, a famous writer whose death is faked during World War I, and who is sent by the mysterious “R”, head of British intelligence, to Switzerland on a secret mission. Carroll plays a female agent who poses as his wife. Lorre appears as a British agent working with them, a killer known variously as “the Hairless Mexican” and “the General”.
Typical Hitchcockian themes used here include mistaken identity and murder.
Secret Agent (1936) is a British film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, loosely based on two stories in Ashenden: Or the British Agent by W. Somerset Maugham. The film starred John Gielgud, Peter Lorre, Madeleine Carroll, and Robert Young.
The film was voted the fifth best British film of 1936.
Alfred Hitchcock convinced John Gielgud to play the lead by describing the hero as a modern day Hamlet. Gielgud, however, ended up hating that his character was an enigma and felt Hitchcock made the villain more charming than the hero.
John Gielgud filmed this during the day while appearing on stage in “Romeo and Juliet” opposite Edith Evans, Peggy Ashcroft and Laurence Olivier in the evening.
Based on W. Somerset Maugham’s “Ashenden” spy stories (“The Traitor” and “The Hairless Mexican”) and a play by Campbell Dixon.
This was Michael Redgrave’s film debut. He played the part of an Army Captain and appears in two scenes. The first is near the beginning of the film when he appears at the end of the scene between Ashenden and R. He also appears near the end of the film when he is introduced to Colonel Anderson in the sauna.
Alfred Hitchcock reflected (regarding John Gielgud’s lack of heroics): “You can’t root for a hero who doesn’t want to be one.”
Though the film is set in 1916, fashion, hairstyles and set decoration are contemporary of 1936.
Dates given in the story are out of sequence. After starting “May 10, 1916″ (title), a telegram received later appears to be dated “3/4/16″. A newspaper near the end of the film is dated “Tuesday, September 21, 1916,” when that date actually occurred on a Thursday. Afterwards a postcard bears the date of “April 2.”
Like the other spy movies he did, Hitchcock’s Secret Agent is a spy movie without lots of explosions or car chases or shootouts.