Secret Agent (1936)

I’m no Hitchcock apologist, this one was terrible.  The filming, the sound, the editing, the script were all uniformly awful.  Peter Lorre was great but his character was psychotic at points and that took away from the likability of the General.  Robert Young was actually my favorite and this wasn’t diminished by revelations at the end of the movie.  I thought he did a great job of quickly shifting from charming attempted womanizer to coldly threatening villain.

The ideas are sound though and soundly Hitchcock.  The ideas of spies trying to run counterintelligence/counterespionage in another country on an enemy spy and assassinate him are probably going to resonate well forever.  Also universal: the dilemmas of what is murder and what is service to one’s country, how to respond to the murder of an innocent man, and how far a nation should be willing to go to defend itself.  I just watched the very same themes being played out in a different way in 2008’s Traitor, 72 years later…

Notice how the British “spies” are normal people scooped up for service.  At this point in history, you were a spy because you were recruited or volunteered to be one.  Of course there was some training but the concept of what a spy was at that point in history was radically different than what it is today.

So watch it to see a very early spy movie but be warned that the quality is pretty bad.