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SECRET AGENT, 1936
Movie Review

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SECRET AGENT
SECRET AGENT, 1936
Movie Reviews

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: John Gielgud, Peter Lorre
Review by Steven Painter



SYNOPSIS:

After three British agents are assigned to assassinate a mysterious German spy during World War I, two of them become ambivalent when their duty to the mission conflicts with their consciences.

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REVIEW:

Secret Agent (1936) is different from other Alfred Hitchcock movies because instead of having an innocent man accused of killing someone as the protagonist, the story’s main character takes part in the murder of an innocent man.

As in all good Hitchcock movies, there is some comedy. Here the opening scene features some of Hitchcock’s famous black humor. We see a group of mourners around a coffin. Unfortunately, someone bumps the casket as the mourners are filing out. The coffin is empty. Apparently the novelist Edgar Brodie is not dead.

We get proof of this when Brodie, who is played by John Gielgud, confronts Agent R about why his death has been faked. R states that since this is the middle of World War I, all attempts by the British to defeat the Germans must be made. So Brodie’s death means the man can take a new name, Richard Ashenden, and take on the assignment of killing a German agent who is supposed to be in Switzerland.

To help Ashenden with his task, the General, also known by his less politically correct name, the Hairless Mexican, is introduced. Peter Lorre does a good job as the womanizing and ruthless General who speaks little English.

To make it look like Ashenden is in Switzerland on vacation, he is given a wife. The title of Mrs. Ashenden goes to spy Elsa Carrington, played by the lovely Madeleine Carroll. American Robert Marvin has taken a liking to Elsa and follows her around, which is good for Ashenden and the General. They get to search for the German spy.

After some investigation, the two figure they have found the right man and plot to kill him the next day when the three go skiing together. At the last moment, Ashenden tells the General that he is having second thoughts about the murder. The General disregards Ashenden’s worries, and says he can handle the man himself if Ashenden doesn’t want to be a part of it. So Ashenden goes back to the lodge and watches through a telescope as the General murders the man.

Much to the dismay of Elsa and Ashenden, the man who was killed wasn’t the German spy. He was an innocent man. The two feel terrible and want to quit, but the General doesn’t share their feelings. He’s out to find the real German agent. The real spy happens to be Elsa’s admirer, Marvin.

On a train through Eastern Europe the spies who are thinking about retirement start to plot how they can kill Marvin. Marvin is on the train and the General wants to kill him, while the other two are busy debating on how to act. They don’t have to think much as the train crashes. Marvin is dying, but he is able to shoot the General before he himself passes on. Thus Elsa and Ashenden are saved from killing another human being. The movie ends with the two retiring from spy work to get married.

Secret Agent is a different take on Hitchcock’s normal spy movies. It imparts some sense of remorse for the death of another human being. This not always present in Hitchcock’s movies, or in other spy movies, which makes this story so refreshing.

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Secret Agent


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