Secret Agent Reviews
Hitchcock's follow-up to The 39 Steps (1935) also stars Madeleine Carroll, this time as an apprentice spy during WWI, and Peter Lorre (from the Man Who Knew Too Much, 1934), as a wacky assassin working for the Brits. John Gielgud takes the lead as the writer drafted to be a spy as Richard Asheden (from the stories by Somerset Maugham). They are all shipped off to Switzerland to track down an enemy agent and kill him. As Hitchcock points out, the unsavoury nature of this assignment and the clear ambivalence shown by Gielgud and Carroll undercut the excitement of the adventure story. And when things go very wrong, this doesn't help either. At this stage in his career, Hitch was already ready to defy audience expectations in a big way (he blew up a child with a bomb in his next picture, Sabotage, 1936) but the honesty with which he deals with assassination doesn't fully jell with the comedy-thriller elements dominating the rest of the picture. There are, of course, some excellent set-pieces handled with aplomb and an unpredictable ending, if you weren't trying to figure things out too hard. Still, this is worth a look, even if not up there with the greatest of the Master's British pictures.
His style is obviously abundant with a seemingly extra dose of his humor coming forth in this one thanks to the extremely fun performance by Peter Lorre.
It is clear that many aspects of this film were used in later films by Hitch (as well as numerous films from the spy genre in general) so we should definitely note 'Secret Agent's importance as a trendsetter in that regard.