[box cover]

I See a Dark Stranger

Bridie Quilty (Deborah Kerr) is about as Irish as a lass can be — as a young girl, she marveled at her father's stories of fighting in the Irish revolution of 1916 against the British, and it is the British above all people she hates. Thus in 1944, on the day she turns 21, she takes a train to Dublin to look up one of her father's old friends, hoping he will give her an assignment with the Irish Republican Army. The only problem is that Ireland struck a treaty with Britain years earlier, and Bridie is told to forget about such romantic notions. But she remains undeterred — aware that Ireland is neutral in the war between Britain and Germany, she wanders into a bookshop hoping to find a text that will teach her German. It's an act that catches the attention of an Englishman named Miller (Raymond Huntley), a Nazi agent who immediately recruits Bridie to assist him on a delicate mission. Traveling to the small English town of Wynbridge Vale, Devon, Bride takes a job as a barmaid and dates a local army man, hoping to glean information. Meanwhile, Miller plots the escape of a Nazi agent held in a local military prison. But when a Royal Artillery officer, Lt. David Baynes (Trevor Howard), arrives at the local inn with apparently nothing to do, Miller pegs him for a counterintelligence agent, and thus asks Bridie to start dating the Englishman — whom she inevitably hates. Such only touches on the full plot of I See a Dark Stranger, a wonderful bit of British filmmaking from director Frank Launder, who co-wrote the piece with Sidney Gilliat and Wolfgang Wilhelm. The story is sketched rapidly and told quickly, with a topsy-turvy adventure full of spies, smugglers, military men, and cops, all leading up to the crucial event of D-Day. But it would not be half as appealing without Bridie at the center of it all, and both Launder and Gilliat knew a few things about woman-in-peril intrigue — having co-scripted Hitchcock's 1938 classic The Lady Vanishes, among the finest films from The Master's British period. The casting is solid throughout, with Kerr anchoring virtually every scene, while Trevor Howard is note-perfect as the chipper British officer who may or may not be a spy himself. But give this a look for the witty touches that are intermingled with the conventional aspects of an espionage thriller — the scene where Bridie awkwardly tries to locate a spy contact on a railway coach; a funeral procession that turns out to be something else entirely; and even a bit of slapstick fisticuffs when the bad guys are finally cornered. One has to believe Hitchcock himself was completely charmed when he saw it. Home Vision Entertainment's DVD release of I See a Dark Stranger features a clean full-frame transfer (1.33:1) from a print that is showing some age and collateral wear, although it's still perfectly acceptable for a British film from the period (and an old movie that looks like an old movie can be a great spin anyway). The original monaural audio is pleasant and clear in DD 2.0. Theatrical trailer, keep-case.
—JJB



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