Secret Agent (1936 film)

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Secret Agent
Secret Agent (1936 film) poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by Michael Balcon
Ivor Montagu
Screenplay by Charles Bennett
Alma Reville
Ian Hay
Story by W. Somerset Maugham
Starring John Gielgud
Peter Lorre
Madeleine Carroll
Robert Young
Lilli Palmer
Cinematography Bernard Knowles
Edited by Charles Frend
Release dates
May 1936 (U.K.)
June 15, 1936 (U.S.)
Running time
86 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Secret Agent (1936) is a British film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, loosely based on two stories in Ashenden: Or the British Agent by W. Somerset Maugham. The film starred John Gielgud, Peter Lorre, Madeleine Carroll, and Robert Young. Future star Michael Redgrave made a brief, uncredited appearance; he would play the male lead in Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes two years later. This was also Michael Rennie's film debut (uncredited).

Typical Hitchcockian themes used here include mistaken identity and murder.


British Captain Brodie (Gielgud) returns home on leave during the First World War. In his flat, he finds a man identifying himself only as "R", who asks him to undertake a secret mission: to identify and eliminate a German agent. Upon agreeing, Brodie is given a new identity (Richard Ashenden), a fake death, and the assistance of a killer known variously as "the Curly Mexican" and "the General" (Lorre).

All that Brodie's "predecessor" was able to determine was that the enemy agent is staying at the Hotel Excelsior in neutral Switzerland. When "Ashenden" arrives there, he is surprised to find that "R" has also provided him with an attractive wife, Elsa Carrington (Carroll). Entering their suite, he also encounters her new admirer, fellow hotel guest Robert Marvin (Young), who is only slightly deterred by the arrival of her husband. When they are alone, Ashenden is displeased when Elsa reveals she insisted upon the assignment because she is a thrill seeker.

Ashenden and the General go to contact a double agent, the church organist, only to find him dead. In his hand, however, they find a button, evidently torn off in the struggle. When they go to the casino to meet Elsa, the button is accidentally dropped onto a roulette table and claimed by Caypor.

The agents persuade experienced mountaineer Caypor to help them settle a concocted bet: which one of them can climb higher on the nearby mountain. As the moment approaches, Ashenden finds he is unable to commit cold-blooded murder, but the General has no such qualms and pushes the unsuspecting Caypor off a cliff.

When they return to the hotel, however, they receive a telegram informing them that Caypor is not their target. Elsa becomes terribly distraught when she is told. She decides to quit, despite having told Ashenden that she fell in love with him at first sight. In the lobby, she encounters Marvin. With no destination in mind, she persuades him to take her along with him. Meanwhile, the other two bribe a worker at a chocolate factory (the Germans' spy center) to show them the latest message sent to the German agent. They discover that it is addressed to none other than Marvin.

They set out in pursuit, taking the same train to Turkey, an ally of Germany. They cross the border into enemy territory, and a large number of soldiers board. Despite this, they manage to get Marvin alone in his compartment. Elsa tries to persuade them not to kill Marvin. Before Ashenden can do anything, one way or the other, the train is attacked and derailed by airplanes sent by "R". Marvin is pinned in the wreckage, but manages to fatally shoot the General before dying. The "Ashendens" quit the spy business.



The film was voted the fifth best British film of 1936.[1]


  1. ^ "BEST FILM PERFORMANCE LAST YEAR.". Examiner (Launceston, Tas. : 1900 - 1954) (Launceston, Tas.: National Library of Australia). 9 July 1937. p. 8 Edition: LATE NEWS EDITION and DAILY. Retrieved 4 March 2013. 

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