Monday, October 11, 2010

1936 - THE SECRET AGENT, Hitchcock's flawed but entertaining spy thriller

Alfred Hitchcock's follow up to his masterpiece The 39 Steps, is another story about espionage but he doesn't get the balance right in the script like he did in The 39 Steps.  Hitchcock also unfortunately miscasts one of the main leads in his film.  The Secret Agent does have many good ideas and scenes such as the murder on the mountain top, the chase in the Swiss chocolate factory and the final spectacular train wreck sequence.

Hitchcock's lifelong fascination with blonds commences in this film with his closeups of the actor Madeline Carroll.  Carroll is very attractive but she isn't really very good in a typical female role with lots of whimpering and whining, a very tiresome character.  However Hitchcock cleverly casts Robert Young, who usually played nice guys in films against type as the enemy agent and Young nails it.

Where the ball really got dropped was casting John Gielgud as the writer turned spy who has been assigned to eliminate an enemy agent, sort of with a license to kind of kill.  Gielgud is very stiff in the role and as the romantic lead he can't seem to work up much interest in Madeline Carroll which is hard to believe just looking at her.

Hitchcock directs The Secret Agent
The real star of The Secret Agent is Peter Lorre.  Here is an actor totally in sync with what Hitchcock is trying to achieve in this film.  Lorre's character at first comes off as comedy relief, but it quickly becomes clear he is a very dangerous assassin and not to be screwed with.  Lorre's balancing act of a performance was clearly what Hitchcock was aiming for in this film. 

The Secret Agent is not the best of Alfred Hitchcock's British films, but it is  extremely important in the development of the film thriller, particular the James Bond films.

Along with Fritz Lang, Alfred Hitchcock is responsible for creating the thriller genre.

86 minutes.

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