Espionage is the torturous line of thought, staged in 1918 with an eye on the storm gathering in 1937. It opens and closes from the vantage point of marauding U-boats (crosshairs practically figure as iris-outs and iris-ins), in between there’s the unruffled joke of a Stockholm dress shop as the neutral axis for a welter of international pirouettes, compounded by the coupling of Vivien Leigh and Conrad Veidt. She’s a Swiss boutique owner whose fashions imported from Paris once draped over lamps reveal top-secret coordinates ("a very expensive luxury" in wartime), he’s a baronial German deserter whose playboy cavorting cloaks a steely officer of the Kaiser. "A force stronger than all the armies in the world: stupidity," goes Lajos Biró’s screenplay at first, but then: "One false move could mean death for both of us. But death is nothing to what I feel for you." Relationships as the continuous encoding and decoding of objects and gestures, counterfeit data yielding to genuine emotion. Hitchcock is Victor Saville’s model (a character enters a music hall and the camera sprawls in the opposite direction, scanning for customers and chorines), with a pinch of Potemkin for the climax; Powell in The Spy in Black resumes the ambiguous study of Veidt’s sardonic elegance against a volatile backdrop. Ships and people alike switch flags and sprout guns in times of deadly pretense, yet the presiding image (Edwards’ The Tamarind Seed revisits it) has the lovers in fragile embrace, pining for "no more lies." With Joan Gardner, Anthony Bushell, and Ursula Jeans. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce