Sam Wood, Jack Conway

Sog.: Leo Birinsky. Scen.: Herman J. Mankiewicz. F.: James Wong Howe. M.: Hugh Wynn. Scgf.: Cedric Gibbons. Mus.: William Axt. Int.: Myrna Loy (Annemarie/Fräulein Doktor/Helena Bohlen), George Brent (Douglas Beall), Lionel Atwill (Von Sturm), C. Henry Gordon (Ali Bey), Rudolph Anders (Karl), Mischa Auer (Ameel), Douglass R. Dumbrille (il generale), Henry Kolker (Sua Eccellenza), Leo G. Carroll (Kruger). Prod.: Bernard H. Hyman, Sam Wood per Metro-Goldwyn- Mayer Corp. DCP.  Bn.

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

Ukrainian refugee Leo Birinsky seems to have been a one-man Mata Hari factory, as he had already penned a German version in 1927, then another for MGM as a Garbo vehicle. But one suspects Herman Mankiewicz had a lot of fun with this, reserving his digs not only for Garbo but also for Sternberg and Dietrich (Dishonored had been made three years before). Myrna Loy is the German spy here, variously named Annemarie, Fräulein Doktor, and Helena Bohlen (but not X27, who has just been nabbed and shot). “Too bad for Mata,” Loy says airily to her boss.

Ever the contrarian, having just penned his anti-Nazi The Mad Dog of Europe the year before and been banned from German screens for his trouble, here Mank gives the best part of the picture to a Teutonic spymaster (regally played by Lionel Atwill) who makes all his European rivals look like intellectual  dwarve. C. Henry Gordon is the wily Turkish commander for the Dardanelles,  George Brent is of course the boring foot loose American who complicates matters.

The picture is more fun to watch than it has any right to be. We’ve all seen spycraft pieces of business in Hollywood movies, but invisible ink was never quite like this. Leave it to Mank to have his spymaster read or write secret messages on Myrna Loy’s silk undies. Then there are the odd microfilms tucked into hollow teeth. All the villains are delightful, from Leo G. Carroll to Atwill, and Mischa Auer gives this fluff some European authenticity. The baffling scene with the coin seems to have been something Mank or one of the directors (Sam Wood or Jack Conway) had seen in real life and put into the movie, which makes the funda mental superficiality of the piece all the more enjoyable.

Philippe Garnier

Copy From

courtesy of Park Circus.
Digitized in 2021 from a 16mm print preserved at Cineteca del Friuli