Thursday, 10 February 2011

Old Movie Madness - The Spy in Black / U Boat 29 (1939)

So, I'm off sick from work today as I woke up at 5am with my first real proper migraine - I couldn't see properly - very scary.  After managing to squintily type a text message to my boss, I took slightly too many Tylenol PM and eventually managed to sleep for another 5 hours.  My head is still banging but at least I can see now.

I love this stuff

Anyway, after being rudely awoken at 9am by the building site outside my window I managed to get out of bed and slump in front of the television for a few hours and found a great little film on.

The Spy in Black is the first of the Powell and Pressburger collaborations (they later worked together on A Matter of Life and Death, One of Our Aircraft is Missing and The Red Shoes).

The movie is supposedly set in WWI, though the costumes and hats scream 30's, and tells the story of an attempted German attack on the Isle of Orkney.  The Islanders are expecting the arrival of a new schoolteacher, but she is kidnapped on her way by German spies who plan to send an agent in her place.

We see the new teacher, now looking quite different, arrive on the island and move into her home, later that night a German submarine commander arrives.  They are working together to destroy the British fleet but the Submarine Commander finds things are not quite as they seem.

This an unmistakeably British film, and it has many fascintating qualities.  I was amazed at how tenderly they portrayed the German Submarine Commander, he was honourable throughout.  Quite surprising given this was made in wartime.  He was utterly charming when given his first good meal, the filmakers clearly showing that it wasn't just the Brits who suffered.  The relationship between The Commander and the "schoolteacher" is also very tenderly portrayed.

It does take a little while to get into, the early scenes in Germany are spoken in English, and the newspaper titles are in English too, sometimes I got a little confused about who was who and where they were meant to be, though this may have been a side effect of the Tylenol and residual head be fair.  I did really enjoy it though, it was by turns melancholy and comedic, with a subtlety I wasn't expecting.

The whole film can be found on YouTube.  Part 1 here.


  1. I love P&P movies!
    I've found that, of all the films made about war in the 30s and 40s, theirs are the most successful at portraying the enemy as human. Their films are all the better for it!

  2. Sorry to hear you have had a horrid migraine you are right they are scary, poor you.
    I am also off work sick and have been watching lots of old films and The Spy in Black / U Boat 29 was one that I had not seen before, but it was good.
    Hope your head has stopped banging.

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