Sunday, 19 November 2017

Undercover Agent aka Counterspy - 1953 film review

As I settled down to watch another of the long-forgotten films that have been resurrected on the excellent Talking Pictures TV channel, I was startled to see on the titles that the screenplay was based on a short story by Julian Symons. The film, Undercover Agent, is also known as Counterspy, and was released in 1953. The story it was based on is called "Criss Cross Code", but I'm unfamiliar with it, and I now plan to set about tracking it down.

Nobody ever thinks of Symons as writing espionage fiction, as the film's titles would suggest, although a few of his early short stories (and this one must have been among his very earliest) touch on international intrigue. The film is a thriller, and although it's creaky in parts, the screenplay is a lively one, co-written by Guy Elmes and Gaston Lazare (the latter name sounds as though it may possibly have been a pseudonym - I can't trace any of Lazare's other work).

The cast is a cut above the average for a British B-movie. Dermot Walsh, later to play Richard the Lionheart in a popular TV series of that name, improbably plays a meek but persistent auditor, who is called in to look over the books of a company where some mischief is afoot. His wife is played by Hazel Court, who was at the time married to Walsh in real life. The principal villain is played by Alexander Gauge, memorable in the role of Friar Tuck in the TV series Robin Hood. Here, Gauge acts rather like a poor man's Sydney Greenstreet in The Maltese Falcon. Hermione Baddeley plays a fortune teller, and even less likely is the casting of Bill Travers - yes, the chap from Born Free - as a brutal thug.

Yet somehow it all makes for agreeable light entertainment, mainly because the pace of the script doesn't allow one time to reflect on the daftness of it all. I'm not sure what Symons would have made of it, and I strongly suspect it bears only a limited resemblance to his story. He probably cringed, but it's no mean feat to have a short story turned into a film, even a comparatively short movie such as this one. An enjoyable curiosity..

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