Secret Mission (1942)

Director: Harold French
Starring: Hugh Williams, James Mason, Michael Wilding, Carla Lehmann, Karel Stepanek, Herbert Lom, Nancy Price, Roland Culver, Walter Gotell
Music: Mischa Spoliansky

One of the writers credited for Secret Mission is Shaun Terence Young – better known to spy fans as plain old Terence Young, who would later direct three of the early James Bond films, as well as Triple Cross and Jigsaw Man.

Made in 1942, of course, this is a war time propaganda piece. It’s all about fighting the good fight for the just cause, but not much fighting actually happens. In the film four men stationed in England are sent on a mission to St. Antoine in German occupied France. The men are Major Peter Garnett (Hugh Williams) who is leading the group. Next we have Captain Red Gowan (Roland Culver). Then we have ex-patriot Frenchman, Raul de Carnot (James Mason), whose family lives in St. Antoine. And bringing up the rear is cad, Private Nobby Clark (Michael Wilding), who has a French wife in St. Antoine who he is not too keen to see.

The men are ferried across the Channel, through the mines, until they are just off the coast of France. From there, they have to make their own way in a dingy. Once on French soil, Garnett and Raoul hide out at Raoul’s family home, and Gowan and Clark hide at Clark’s wife’s home.

The real weakness of the film is the mission itself, which is ill-defined. It seems like a case of ‘let’s go see what Jerry is up to!’ While intelligence gather was no doubt very important during the war, in this instance it doesn’t really add up to a ‘Secret Mission’ as we’d expect in a spy film today.

The story is also riddled with subplots involving the loved ones of Raoul and Nobby. While Nobby’s plight is mostly comic relief, poor old Raoul plays the serious and dour, but at the same time righteous and patriot Frenchman, who fights to get his country back. With German occupation in his hometown, this only causes conflict between him and his family. Maybe Raoul would have been a far more sympathetic character had he not been hampered by Mason’s dodgy French accent.

The film has one or two lighter moments. One of them is when Garnett and Gowan, posing as Champagne salesmen talk their way into German Intelligence headquarters for the region. The Germans realise that the men are frauds, but believe that they are from the Gestapo checking up on them. The scene is a breath of fresh air in a rather drab film.

Generally this type of film enthrals me. I love the old character driven pieces from the thirties and forties, but unfortunately this one just doesn’t stack up.

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