Secret Mission (1942)


Directed by Harold French
Hugh Williams, James Mason, Michael Wilding, Carla Lehmann, Karel Stepanek, Herbert Lom, Nancy Price, Roland Culver, Walter Gotell
Music by Mischa Spoliansky

One of the writers credited for Secret Mission is Shaun Terence Young – better known to spy fans as plain old Terence Young, who would later direct three of the early James Bond films, as well as Triple Cross and Jigsaw Man.

Made in 1942, of course, this is a war time propaganda piece. It’s all about fighting the good fight for the just cause, but not much fighting actually happens. In the film four men stationed in England are sent on a mission to St. Antoine in German occupied France. The men are Major Peter Garnett (Hugh Williams) who is leading the group. Next we have Captain Red Gowan (Roland Culver). Then we have ex-patriot Frenchman, Raul de Carnot (James Mason), whose family lives in St. Antoine. And bringing up the rear is cad, Private Nobby Clark (Michael Wilding), who has a French wife in St. Antoine who he is not too keen to see.

The men are ferried across the Channel, through the mines, until they are just off the coast of France. From there, they have to make their own way in a dingy. Once on French soil, Garnett and Raoul hide out at Raoul’s family home, and Gowan and Clark hide at Clark’s wife’s home.

The real weakness of the film is the mission itself, which is ill-defined. It seems like a case of ‘let’s go see what Jerry is up to!’ While intelligence gather was no doubt very important during the war, in this instance it doesn’t really add up to a ‘Secret Mission’ as we’d expect in a spy film today.

The story is also riddled with subplots involving the loved ones of Raoul and Nobby. While Nobby’s plight is mostly comic relief, poor old Raoul plays the serious and dour, but at the same time righteous and patriot Frenchman, who fights to get his country back. With German occupation in his hometown, this only causes conflict between him and his family. Maybe Raoul would have been a far more sympathetic character had he not been hampered by Mason’s dodgy French accent.

The film has one or two lighter moments. One of them is when Garnett and Gowan, posing as Champagne salesmen talk their way into German Intelligence headquarters for the region. The Germans realise that the men are frauds, but believe that they are from the Gestapo checking up on them. The scene is a breath of fresh air in a rather drab film.

Generally this type of film enthrals me. I love the old character driven pieces from the thirties and forties, but unfortunately this one just doesn’t stack up.

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Secret Mission (1942)

The Saint In London (1939)


Director: John Paddy Carstairs
Starring: George Sanders, Sally Gray, David Burns, Gordon McLeod, Athen Seyler, Henry Oscar, Ralph Truman, Ballard Berkeley, John Abbott
Music: Marr Mackie
Based on the short story, ‘The Million Pound Day’ by Leslie Charteris

In some ways, The Saint In London is one of The Saint’s most espionage based stories, but to tell you why and how would ruin some of the twists and turns that this story has to offer. As The Saint films of this era where barely more than B-grade programmers with rather stripped down stories, to reveal the twist would be criminal, so I’ll refrain.

You know, I like George Sanders as The Saint. He only made five Saint films, and then went on to become The Falcon (much to the chagrin of Leslie Charteris, who sued RKO claiming that The Falcon was The Saint in all but name). But Sanders as The Saint is very effective, even though some of the stories used (or the adaptations at any rate) were sub standard. Sanders shines through. He was a class act, and this shows through in his portrayal of the character.

The film opens with Simon Templar, AKA The Saint (George Sanders) arriving by car at the exclusive Restaurant Maxy. As he is about to enter, a man at the door asks for a cigarette. The Saint obliges, but as he lights the cigarette, the man who happens to be a thief, lifts Templar’s watch. As he does so, a police officer notices and tries to intervene on Templars behalf. The Saint protests that the officer must be mistaken and produces a watch from his pocket. It is in fact the pickpockets watch, which The Saint had swiped, as recompense for the pickpocket taking his.

Once inside the restaurant, The Saint orders a drink and a meal. Then rather sheepishly, the pickpocket makes his way into the restaurant and to The Saint’s table. He introduces himself as Dugan (David Burns), and trades watches with The Saint. The Saint offers Dugan a meal and a job as his valet. But Templar isn’t at the restaurant to meet Dugan. He has a prearranged dinner engagement with old chum Richard Blake (Ballard Berkeley). Berkeley has been having a spot of bother with a gentleman named Bruno Lang (Henry Oscar). And it turns out with good reason. Lang is in fact an underworld mob boss. Templar agrees to help Blake and arranges to meet Lang at a party. Along with Lang, he also meets Penny Parker (Sally Gray), who realises that Templar is up to something, and the ‘nosey’ side of her nature wants to find out what it is.

Templar first notifies Bruno Lang that he is on to him, by leaving a calling card on the steering wheel of Langs Car. The card say ‘Bruno Lang Vs. The Saint’. Lang shrugs it off as a joke, but Templar makes his way to Lang’s home, breaks in and riffles through the documents in the safe. He finds what he is looking for, and then makes a hasty exit. On his way out, he runs into a security guard who has been walking the perimeter of Lang’s estate. Templar knocks the guard down and makes a run for it.

Luckily for The Saint, the very, very nosey Ms. Parker has followed him to Lang’s. She hears the gunshots as the guard fires after Templar. She gets into Templar’s car and starts the engine. By the time Templar comes bounding out, the car is moving and he hitches a ride on the running boards.

As they speed along the road, away from the scene of the crime, they come across a beaten man running down the road, fearing for his life. Templar offers assistance, firstly by hiding the scared man in his car. And then by secondly raising his boot into the chest of the goon who was chasing the poor guy.

Templar and Parker take the man to a hotel and The Saint arranges for a doctor to come and see the man. Once he is patched up, the man reveals himself to be Count Duni. Duni is a foreign diplomat who was sent to England to oversee the printing of new currency for his country. Unfortunately he had been captured by some of Bruno Lang’s goon and was forced to sign over for the printing of an extra million pounds. Lang and his mobsters intend to ruch this new money into circulation as the new currency is released. That way it would be untraceable.

As complicated as all that seems, it is even more so. You see, when Templar rescued the Count, and clobbered Lang’s goon, a police officer noticed. Well he noticed Templar clobbering the goon then making a quick getaway. The officer wrote down the car number plate and passed it onto his superiors. It isn’t long before it crosses the desk of Inspector Claud Teal (Gordon McLeod) of Scotland Yard. Naturally Teal has been trying to catch The Saint for years, and is soon investigating.

The Saint In London is a pacey little thriller with a fine resolution. The one strange thing about this episode, is usually a character like The Saint, has one ‘hanger on’ who acts as comic relief. In this episode, he has three – Penney parker, Dugan, and even Inspector Teal. I suppose this only serves to make The Saint seem even more dashing. All in all, this is not bad.

The Saint In London (1939)