Shots of Scots 1: You Naztee Spy

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That’s Alec Craig on the left, a stock Scot-for-hire in Hollywood films of the late ’30s and 40′s. I think I first noticed him in Mitchell Leisen’s KITTY, a film unusually blessed with Celtic types. On the right is sly ladycorpse Eily Malyon, who played various sinister domestics and cadaverous matriarchs during the same period. Here she’s a Scottish nazi, and she seems to have acquired her accent by mimicking Alec’s — she’s very convincing, despite being a native Londoner.

The film is –

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– from Warner Brothers, and after a riproaring catchpenny title like that it thrilled me to find the first scene taking place in my own fatherland, where Mrs McLaughlin (Malyon) is acting as a postal forwarding address for espionage-related correspondence. Further thrills are supplied by the movie’s place in history: released in 1939, it provoked an international incident with its unabashedly anti-Nazi rhetoric (although it’s not anti-German, being directed by Anatole Litvak and padded with provisos to make it clear that this evil is political rather than national or racial). CONFESSIONS  nearly propelled America into the war two years early, and thus tends to disprove the still-prevalent fallacy that studio bosses chose to ignore the threat of fascism in Europe.

The film is one of those hard-hitting, torn-from-the-headlines Warners dramas, complete with a stentorian narrator, or maybe ANNOUNCER would be a better word, and it exploits the Hollywood convention of hitting you, hard, with the same information in a number of ways, just in case you’re very very stupid ~

Dissolve to a sign reading “Fort Wentworth 2nd Army Corps Base Hospital”, then to a clerk at a phone, beneath a sign reading “Dispensary, sick calls”.

Announcer: “A few days later, the sick-clerk at Fort Wentworth Station Hospital receives a call.”

Sick-clerk: “Hello, Fort Wentworth Station Hospital, sick-clerk speaking.”

Despite such thick-eared, thick-headed moments, there are many pleasures on offer — George Sanders as an arrogant Gestapo creep, his head shaved to a tuft, making him look halfway between a Japanese baby and a deformed novelty potato — Lya Lys from L’AGE D’OR, who’s always welcome in a Hollywood film, just for the bizarre resonance she brings (this was probably her best Ho’wood role) — Eddie G Robinson as a prototype of the Nazi-hunter he plays in Welles’ THE STRANGER — Paul Lukas, sleazy as the philandering Bund demagogue — best of all, handsome Francis Lederer as the main spy, an underachieving, egotistical fantasist motivated only by self-aggrandizement, a brilliant study in narcissism.

Francis went on to be Jodie Foster’s drama coach when she was a kid. Hooray for him!

The title CONFESSIONS OF A NAZI SPY may tempt some of you to picture Robin Askwith in an S.S. uniform.

DO NOT.

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27 Responses to “Shots of Scots 1: You Naztee Spy”

  1. Yes, George Sanders is awfully good in this (I’m growing more and more fond of him, actually — the Falcon series is no use at all once his brother takes over), but the latter third of the film drags terribly.

    I watched it a couple of months ago because one of the Nazi bit part players is played by a guy called Bob Stephenson, who went around claiming to be Robert Louis Stevenson’s grandson (not true — he was related, but was a great nephew once removed or something; I haven’t quite worked it out yet).

  2. I haven’t seen this one, but I do enjoy watching George Sanders. My favourite films featuring Sanders include Summer Storm, A Scandal in Paris, The Private Affairs of Bel Ami, Moonfleet and of course Journey to Italy, one of his finest performances.

  3. George did very good work for Sirk, Lang, Litvak… also Hitchcock (he’s adorable in Foreign Correspondent, and a joy in Rebecca, entering through the window and stealing the show). I like him in any kind of role. Shy, virginal wallpaper designer? Let George do it! He pulls that one off superbly in Siodmak’s magnificent Uncle Harry.

    Still to look at The Kremlin Letter, which has George in drag, and singing, two things which seem unlikely but he probably gets away with it. He boasted he was a terrific singer to an interviewer, who asked if he “went singing about the house”? “I do not do anything about the house,” George replied frostily, “I have no desire to be an octogenarian baritone.”

  4. Arthur S. Says:

    Sanders was a great actor. His best is VOYAGE TO ITALY. He hated Ingrid Bergman(called her a cow) and hated Rossellini but that’s his best performance.

    He tried to keep getting out of the film. Rossellini finally convinced him, “Look so this is a bad picture. It won’t be the first bad picture you’ve made and it won’t be the last.” Amazing logic.

  5. Here’s a short clip of George singing. It’s quite poignant really, given the circumstances of his death:

  6. His most dizzying height was All About Eve: “You’re too short for that gesture!”

  7. That thing of “the line he was born to say”… several actors in Eve get to say several of those lines. Pretty much everything Addison DeWitt says is so perfect for Sanders that you could probably use those lines as an invocation to raise him from the dead.

  8. “You have a point, my dear. An idiotic one, but a point nonetheless”

    “Miss Caswell is a graduate of the Copacabana School For the Dramatic Arts.”

  9. Keep it up, the earth on his grave is bulging curiously and the sulphurous smoke from his long cigarette holder is seeping through the topsoil…

  10. His delivery of lines in The Portrait of Dorian Gray is one of the most impressive things about that film, I can’t imagine any other actor expressing Wilde’s words as well.

  11. Just got the DVD of that, can’t wait to revisit it!

  12. Lewin ( a very curious and marvelous talent) used Sanders quite lot.

  13. Yes, I’ve got The Private Affairs of Bel-Ami lined up as well. WHEN AM I GOING TO WATCH THIS STUFF?

    Time to watch something right now.

  14. Hopefully you got the DVD with Angela Lansbury’s commentary? Dying to hear her musings on being involved in the film. You’ll have to do a post on this one.

  15. Good God, has anybody seen him alongside Hedy Lamarr in Edgar Ulmer’s The Strange Woman? He plays (long pause for dramatic effect) ………. a LUMBERJACK. And, he’s okay.

  16. David Wingrove tells me the disc could do with more of Angela’s memories and fewer of the film historian’s musings, but it’s still a must-listen.

    Well, I only had an hour to spare, so I watched Obsession, by Maurice Tourneur, which fitted nicely into that slot and was well worth seeing, not least for the connections between Tourneur pere et fils…

  17. That Ulmer is an odd piece of work. But yeah, Sanders can do lumberjack.

  18. What with the earth of his grave bulging curiously and all that, for a second there I thought we were in the midst of a remake of “Psychomania” — a film whose cast included Sanders. Wasn’t able to last past the first few minutes of “Psychomania,” but I kinda like the *idea* of an undead biker picture with Sanders and Beryl Reid.

    And as long as we’re talking zero-budget fantasy, how ’bout the Francis Lederer performance in “The Return of Dracula”? Very decent, as I remember. Two other pictures with Lederer that pique the curiosity: Leisen’s “Captain Carey U.S.A.” and Dwan’s “Surrender.”

    An IMDb user describes the latter film as a “delirious over-the-top western tale of l’amout fou [...] a sort-of ‘Madame Bovary-Scarlett O’Hara Goes To Texas’ tale, with elements of noir.”

  19. Oh, Psychomania is worth sticking with. Not exactly good, but full of fun, and nonsense, and such.

    Haven’t managed to find the Leisen or Dwan (which sounds beyond wonder), but Lederer’s marvellous in Terror is a Man, possibly the best horror movie to come out of the Philippines. And then there’s Pandora’s Box, of course.

  20. Francis Lederer starred in a film I’ve yet to see, released in 1944, entitled Voice in the Wind. Spencer Selby in his book ‘Dark City:The Film Noir’ describes it thusly: “Former concert pianist, victim of Nazi torture, pursues a melancholic existence on the island of Guadalupe. Notable, little-known B noir that is grim, romantic and arty”. Sounds like something I’d like, actually. IMDB’s got a few comments on the film that help to enhance its potential appeal to anyone who’s interested.

  21. Mmm, that does sound good. Must see if it’s obtainable through my regular avenues…

  22. Captain Carey seems to be available here: http://www.cabbageboymovies.com/ladd.html

    (along with lots of other interesting stuff…)

  23. Great — hopefully I can get a free copy from somebody sometime. got to see anything by Leisen.

  24. I watched the DVD you loaned me of Witness to Murder last night — thanks again! I didn’t realise George Sanders was in it. That was very thoughtful of you. He’s awfully good in it, isn’t he? I love his maniacal German outburst, of course, but his evil bounder performance is great throughout. Wonderful man.

  25. David Wingrove was doubtful that anybody could convincingly intimidate Stanwyck, or that George was the man for the job, but that may be a flaw in Babs’ playing — in the superb (beyond-words-superb!) No Man of Her Own she’s convincingly at the mercy of the sneering bad guy.

    I actually still haven’t watched Witness to Murder myself, apart from the first few seconds to check the disc. But it did look fun! She lives up to the title in the first shot!

  26. Yes! I watched the first minute or so the night I got home after you gave my the DVD, and I thought it was just brilliant that, before the titles have even finished, she’s a WITNESS! To MURDER! And then the text says, WITNESS TO MURDER! Great stuff.

  27. If they’d been really brave, they could have followed that with 90 minutes of gambolling puppies and still claim to have honored their pledge.

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