The Adventures of Tartu

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The Adventures of Tartu
The Adventures of Tartu FilmPoster.jpeg
Directed by Harold S. Bucquet
Produced by Irving Asher
Written by John C. Higgins (story)
John Lee Mahin
Howard Emmet Rogers
Miles Malleson (uncredited)
Starring Robert Donat
Valerie Hobson
Walter Rilla
Glynis Johns
Music by Lewis Levy
Cinematography John J. Cox
Edited by Douglas Myers
Release dates
  • October 1943 (1943-10)
Running time 111 minutes (UK) / 103 minutes (US)
Country United Kingdom
Language English

The Adventures of Tartu (alternate British title and American release title: Sabotage Agent) aka Tartu, is a 1943 British Second World War spy film starring Robert Donat.[1] It was a typical "flag waver" of the era, portraying Nazis as highly corruptible due to their desire to seduce women and to gain personal advancement.[2]


Screenshot depicting London during the Blitz in 1940

British Captain Terence Stevenson (Robert Donat) accepts an assignment even more dangerous than his everyday wartime job of defusing unexploded bombs. Fluent in Romanian and German and having studied chemical engineering, he is parachuted into Romania to assume the identity of Captain Jan Tartu, a member of the fascist Iron Guard. He makes his way to Czechoslovakia to steal the formula of a new Nazi poison gas and sabotage the factory where it is being manufactured.

However, his contact is arrested before he can arrange for a job in the factory. Tartu is instead assigned work as a foreman at a munitions plant. Among the other occupants of the house in which he resides are his landlady Anna Palacek (Phyllis Morris), her daughter Paula (Glynis Johns), who works in the plant, German Inspector Otto Vogel (Walter Rilla), and lovely Maruschka Lanova (Valerie Hobson), who makes herself popular with the German occupiers, especially Vogel and the local commandant.

Tartu gains Paula's confidence by providing her with an alibi after she shoots a German officer. He asks her help to contact the Czech underground and is surprised to learn that Maruschka is one of them. She in turn contacts Dr. Novotny (Martin Miller), the leader of the local resistance group. Though Maruschka trusts Tartu, Novotny is more cautious.

When Paula is detected attempting to commit sabotage at the factory, she whispers to Tartu to denounce her to deflect suspicion away from him. She is then summarily shot. This, along with the death of Tartu's contact, causes the underground to believe that he is a Nazi agent; Maruschka plots to have a Nazi officer, who has a crush on her, kill Tartu. Fortunately, Tartu is transferred to the gas plant without their help.

He goes to work for Dr. Willendorf (Percy Walsh), the head of the operation. However, he is dismayed to learn that the first shipment of gas is due to leave the factory the next night. Desperate, he pretends to get drunk in a bar and blurts out that he knows the names of Czech resistance members who will be arrested soon, then staggers out into the dark street. As he had hoped, he is abducted by the underground. With a great deal of effort, he finally convinces them they are on the same side. He manufactures small bombs that, in the right places, are enough to demolish the plant.

Screenshot of the climactic escape

The next day, he goes to work. Though his cover is blown soon afterward, he manages to plant the bombs and escape from the heavily guarded plant, which blows up as he drives off. Then, he, Maruschka, and a pilot steal a German bomber and fly away.


As appearing in The Adventures of Tartu, (main roles and screen credits identified):[3]

  • Robert Donat as Captain Terence Stevenson
  • Valerie Hobson as Maruschka Lanova
  • Walter Rilla as Inspector Otto Vogel
  • Glynis Johns as Paula Palacek
  • Phyllis Morris as Anna Palacek
  • Martin Miller as Dr. Novotny
  • Anthony Eustrel as German Officer
  • Percy Walsh as Dr. Willendorf
  • David Ward as Bronte
  • Mabel Terry-Lewis (credited as Mabel Terry Lewis) as Mrs. Stevenson
  • Frederic Richter as General Weymouth
  • John Penrose as Lieutenant in gas factory
  • Hubert Leslie as Peter Valek
  • Miki Iveria as Female worker at Skoda
  • Lawrence O'Madden as Col. Perry
  • Josephine Wilson as Nurse
  • Maurice Rhodes as Boy patient


The Adventures of Tartu began life with the working title, Sabotage Agent, while the title, Tartu was also used. The film was released in England in late 1943 as Sabotage Agent, eight minutes longer (111 vs. 103 minutes) than the American release. The difference in running time is, due to at number of short added scenes, mostly near the end of the film, plus the addition of dubbing, alternate and extended shots throughout the film.A different exterior factory shot is seen exploding in each film.[N 1] [4] Principal photography took place in July and August 1942 at MGM's London studios; it was the studio's first British production in two years. With an American director but an all-British cast, featuring Donat, whose last film, The Young Mr Pitt, like The Adventures of Tartu, was a propaganda film.[5][6] An unusual use of a captured Junkers Ju 88 bomber in Luftwaffe markings is featured. Use of archival film from the London Blitz and of a Messerschmitt Bf 110 fighter also lends an air of authenticity.[N 2]


In The Adventures of Tartu, the Nazi officers are shown as highly contemptible and shallow, professing devotion to Hitler's war aims merely as a cloak for their individual selfish desires. Tartu easily hoodwinks a factory director by appealing to the latter's desire to appear clever in front of his subordinates. He passes through an electric security checkpoint by reference to veiled promises to provide a girl for the head guard. A woman engineers a plot against Tartu by appealing to a Nazi officer's desire to have a romance with her and to win a promotion.[9][10]


The New York Times review called The Adventures of Tartu a film that "frequently and unabashedly places a strain on the audience's credulity", and the "script is so full of holes it could be used for a sieve". However, it also admitted that, "for all its excesses, it still packs a fair load of excitement ..." and "is fun ... due largely to the gusto that Mr. Donat brings to the film."[11] Variety reviewed the film on 4 August 1943.[6] Later reviews considered the light fare at least a pleasurable Donat feature, enriched by his "lively performance."[12]



  1. ^ A scene with Donat's mother played by Mabel Terry-Lewis is entirely eliminated in the American version.[4]
  2. ^ A Junkers Ju 88 A-4 (4D+DL), EE205: Formerly of 3./KG 30, landed by mistake at RAF Lulsgate Bottom, after a night raid on Birkenhead on 23/24 July 1941.[7] No. 1426 (Enemy Aircraft) Flight, nicknamed the RAFwaffe at RAF Duxford, from 1941, flew captured enemy aircraft, including the Ju 88 and Bf 110 C–4 seen in The Adventures of Tartu.[8]


  1. ^ Aldgate and Richards 1994, p. 14.
  2. ^ Evans 2000, p. 7.
  3. ^ "Credits: The Adventures of Tartu (1943)." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: 10 April 2012.
  4. ^ a b "Alternate Versions: The Adventures of Tartu". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: 9 September 2013.
  5. ^ Barr 1986, p. 165.
  6. ^ a b "Notes: The Adventures of Tartu." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: 10 April 2012.
  7. ^ "CH 15606 (photograph reference)." Imperial War Museum. Retrieved: 30 June 2012.
  8. ^ Weal 2000, p. 70.
  9. ^ "Adventures of Tartu (1943) aka Tartu (1943) aka Sabotage Agent (1943)." Classic Film Guide, 2010. Retrieved: 10 April 2012.
  10. ^ Murray, Stephen O. "WWII derring-do behind enemy lines with the dapper Robert Donat." Epinions, 23 April 2009. Retrieved: 10 April 2012.
  11. ^ T.S. "The Adventures of Tartu (1943), At Loew's State." The New York Times, 24 September 1943. Retrieved: 18 November 2008.
  12. ^ Schwartz, Dennis. "Robert Donat's lively performance saves this ordinary spy caper from its conventional story line." Ozus' World Movie Reviews, 6 January 2006. Retrieved: 10 April 2012.


  • Aldgate, Anthony and Jeffrey Richards. Britain Can Take it: British Cinema in the Second World War. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2nd Edition, 1994. ISBN 0-7486-0508-8.
  • Barr, Charles, ed. All Our Yesterdays: 90 Years of British Cinema. London: British Film Institute, 1986. ISBN 0-85170-179-5.
  • Evans, Alun. Brassey's Guide to War Films. Dulles, Virginia: Potomac Books, 2000. ISBN 1-57488-263-5.
  • Weal, John. Ju 88 Kampfgeschwader on the Western Front. Botley, Oxfordshire, UK: Osprey Publishing, 2000. ISBN 1-84176-020-X.

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