Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
United Kingdom, 1936. Gaumont British Picture Corporation. Screenplay by Charles Bennett, dialogue by Ian Hay, Helen Simpson, additional dialogue by E.V.H. Emmett, based on the novel Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad. Cinematography by Bernard Knowles. Produced by Michael Balcon. Music by Hubert Bath, Jack Beaver, Louis Levy. Production Design by Oscar Friedrich Werndorff, Albert Jullion. Costume Design by Joe Strassner. Film Editing by Charles Frend.
One of Hitchcock’s most enjoyable pre-Hollywood thrillers, set at a movie theatre owned by married couple Sylvia Sidney and Oskar Homolka. She has no idea that a Scotland Yard detective (John Loder) is working undercover at the grocery store next door, observing Homolka and his possible ties to terrorists who are responsible for a dangerous blackout at the beginning of the film. Sidney never noticed that her husband came home during the blackout, occupied as she was with angry theatre audiences demanding their money back, and is oblivious when Homolka is assigned a task by his cohorts, to set a bomb off in Piccadilly Square. Loder needs to find out if Sidney is in on the action with her husband because he’s getting sweet on her, spending so much time in her company that he gets in the way of Homolka’s plans, who has to change things at the last minute to avoid arousing suspicion. The film’s central sequence, involving Sidney’s plucky younger brother (Desmond Tester), is a real nail-biter with a very shocking conclusion in this adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Secret Agent (the title changed to avoid confusion with Hitchcock’s Secret Agent, released the same year). The care that the master director places on all aspects of the story, including expert performances, beautiful cinematography and the details of the setting, enrich an uncomplicated but perfectly measured out plot that builds with perfect subtlety, hits all its necessary emotional notes at exactly the right time, climaxes with pinpoint accuracy and then leaves you satisfied and ready to go home (and if it sounds like I’m also talking about something else, that’s because that’s how good a movie feels when it’s done right).