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 —
— 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.