The Master Playing At Espionage
|It Could Only Happen At a 30's Presentation House: Joe Besser On a Bill with Hitchcock|
Last Of Seven Hitchcocks: Secret Agent (1936)
Alfred Hitchcock gets an American star to co-headline one of his Gaumont thrillers (Robert Young), and we can hope it helped, despite Secret Agent being fourth runner-up to The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps, and two years' later The Lady Vanishes, that being indication of just how wonderful all these were/are. The romance leads are John Gielgud and Madeleine Carroll. Gielgud admitted later that he sleepwalked through early roles, and it was this one (and Hitchcock) that taught him better to apply seriousness and skill. Secret Agent kids along to a sobering point when spy games result in a likeable innocent's death, that a moment Hitchcock plays straight and won't let characters off the hook for. Sleazy circumstance of espionage is treated in ways similar to how anti-James Bond pics exposed violence for fun's sake in that 60's and beyond series, another way that AH was ahead of his 30's time. Hitchcock UK-folk had charming way with dainty pistols hid in handbags and overcoat pockets; seems everyone pulls theirs eventually. Good luck charm from The Man Who Knew Too Much Peter Lorre turns up with accent, curled hair, and lethal whimsy, liking him (or not) in this guise a matter of personal taste. Secret Agent has enough "set-pieces" so beloved of Hitchcock to more than link an 86 minute chain, not his best by a mile, but could anyone else's best surpass it?