Sunday, July 20, 2014

#1,434. British Intelligence (1940)

Directed By: Terry Morse

Starring: Boris Karloff, Margaret Lindsay, Bruce Lester

Line from the film: "These sacrifices we are all making - do you think they will eventually mean something to mankind?"

Trivia: This movie is based on a play, produced by George M. Cohan, that premiered in 1918

Like Tower of London, 1940’s British Intelligence gave audiences a chance to see Boris Karloff in something other than a horror movie. The story of a German spy network operating in England during World War One, British Intelligence is a decent, if somewhat confusing, wartime thriller.

German spy Helene Von Lorbeer (Margaret Lindsey) is sent to England by her superiors, where, posing as a refugee, she becomes the house guest of Arthur Bennett (Holmes Herbert), a key official in the British government. Yet Helene isn’t the only spy in the Bennett estate; the family’s French butler, Valdar (Karloff), is also one, and claims to be an associate of Franz Strendler’s, the most notorious German agent in all of Britain. In an effort to quell the situation, Colonel Yates (Leonard Mudie) of British Intelligence contacts Bennett and lets him know his house is a hotbed of spy activity. But are these spies truly working for the enemy, or are they double agents planted by the British to help draw the elusive Strendler out of hiding?

It seems that just about everyone is a spy in British Intelligence. Aside from Helene and Valdar, the Germans have planted a number of other agents in England, from upper-class businessman Henry Thompson (Lester Matthews), who introduces Helene to the Bennetts; to the neighborhood milkman (Clarence Derwent). Even the secretary at Arthur Bennett’s law firm (played by Louise Brien) is a German spy. To make matters more complex, a few of these so-called spies are actually British double agents who report directly to Colonel Yates! British Intelligence is chock full of so many spies that you need a scorecard to keep track of them all.

Along with its intricate tale of espionage, British Intelligence also features some thrilling battle sequences (consisting primarily of stock footage). What’s more, the movie, made as the Second World War raged on, waves the flag in our faces on several occasions (Towards the end of the film, Bennett and Yates are talking about war, and during the course of their conversation Yeats laments the fact that there are “maniacs who lust for power” in the world, an obvious reference to Adolph Hitler).

A well-acted thriller, British Intelligence may not be the easiest film to follow, but it does keep you guessing to the very end.

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