Squadron Leader X
|Squadron Leader X|
U.S. promotional poster
|Directed by||Lance Comfort|
|Produced by||Victor Hanbury|
|Music by||William Alwyn|
|Edited by||Michael C. Chorlton|
|Distributed by||RKO Radio British Productions|
Squadron Leader X is a 1943 British World War II spy drama directed by Lance Comfort and starring Eric Portman and Ann Dvorak. The screenplay was adapted by Miles Malleson and Wolfgang Wilhelm from a short story by Emeric Pressburger.
Erich Kohler (Portman), a crack Luftwaffe pilot who speaks fluent English, is instructed by his superiors to drop a cargo of bombs on the Belgian city of Ghent and then to bail out of his plane wearing a British RAF uniform, gain the confidence of the local populace and then try to convince them that the British are responsible for the bombing of civilian targets in Belgium. The plan goes awry when he falls into the hands of the Belgian Resistance, who believe they are doing him a favour by arranging for him to be smuggled to Britain among a group of downed RAF pilots who are being returned that night.
On arriving in Britain, Kohler escapes and makes his way to London where he tries to get in touch with old contacts, only to find that most have been interned on the Isle of Man. He does however manage to contact British nurse Barbara Lucas (Dvorak), an old flame who once had Nazi sympathies, and takes refuge with the Krohns (Martin Miller and Beatrice Varley), a couple who are reluctant Nazi agents due to threats being made of harm to family members in Germany if they fail to co-operate.
Kohler finds himself being hunted both by the British MI5 and by German officials furious at his bungled mission in Belgium. He is traced by Dr. Schultz (Henry Oscar), a ruthless Gestapo officer, who accuses him of inefficiency and cowardice. A shoot-out follows and Schultz is killed. Meanwhile, MI5 agent Milne (Walter Fitzgerald) picks up Kohler's trail. Kohler manages narrowly to avoid arrest and steals a Hawker Hurricane in which to fly back to Germany. Over the English Channel, he is spotted by German fighters who believe they are engaging a British pilot, and shoot the plane down.
- Eric Portman as Erich Kohler
- Ann Dvorak as Barbara Lucas
- Walter Fitzgerald as Inspector Milne
- Martin Miller as Mr. Krohn
- Beatrice Varley as Mrs. Krohn
- Henry Oscar as Dr. Schultz
- Barry Jones as Bruce Fenwick
- Charles Victor as Marks
- Marjorie Rhodes as Mrs. Agnew
- David Peel as Michael Bertholt
- Aubrey Mallalieu as Pierre
- Mary Merrall as Miss Thorndike
- Carl Jaffe as Luftwaffe Colonel
Reception and later history
Squadron Leader X was exceptionally well received by critics on its release, with Picturegoer's Lionel Collier naming it "one of the best spy melodramas yet made", and The Cinema declaring: "The air-sequences, made with official Air Ministry co-operation, are among the most actionful and breath-taking ever screened". The Monthly Film Bulletin spoke of "a cast that is of the highest order" and summarised the film as "an exciting story, well scripted and produced with tremendous attention to detail".
There is no record of the film ever being reshown after its original release. The British Film Institute has been unable to trace a print for inclusion in the BFI National Archive, and currently classes the film as "missing, believed lost". Squadron Leader X is included on the BFI's "75 Most Wanted" list of missing British feature films. Due to the seemingly unanimous praise it attracted in its time, and the fact that the 21st century has seen a major increase in interest from film historians in Comfort's directorial career and Squadron Leader X is a vital missing piece of his filmography, the film is named the third "most wanted" of all, behind only The Mountain Eagle (Alfred Hitchcock) and Two Crowded Hours (Michael Powell).
- Squadron Leader X complete short story by Emeric Pressburger powell-pressburger.org, Retrieved 22 August 2010
- "Squadron Leader X". British Film Institute. Retrieved 22 August 2010.