This used to be one of my favourite secret Hitchcock films. Secret as in less well known and appreciated. Following on from Rebecca was always going to be hard so it appears that Hitch thought he would make a thriller just the ones he made in Britain. And rather like the majority of his British thrillers, this doesn’t really hang together. The film is a weird hybrid of big Hollywood budget (as reflected in the sets) and British quirkiness but what was marginally acceptable in a low budget British film seems careless in such surroundings. Of course, there are brilliant set pieces and sequences such as the rain-soaked assassination, the coat caught in the windmill gear, Edmund Gwenn attempts at murder, and the plane crash, but the plotting and general storytelling is all over the place.
Johnny Jones and Carol Fisher are rather dull characters (though the actors are perfectly fine) and it’s not even Johnny who saves Van Meer but the charismatic Scott ffolliott played beautifully by George Sanders. I do like Herbert Marshall who was such a dependable actor whether hero or villain.
The torture scene is deeply unpleasant and cruel. While I’m aware that torture is unpleasant and cruel I don’t really need to see it in a film with such light tone. The torture scene does result in an interesting tableau as the villains (and George Sanders) watch and listen.
Naturally being Hitchcock it is very funny though I take issue with the commentators on the documentary on this particular DVD release (Personal History: Foreign Hitchcock) who seem to think it had something to do with Robert Benchley who is reasonably amusing in an entirely Robert Benchley way but I rather think that the Charles Bennett who wrote The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps, Secret Agent, Sabotage and Young and Innocent, may have been a tiny bit more important on the humour front.
Transport: ship, plane
Animals: cobwebbed sparrow
Source: Warner Brothers (USA)