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BRITISH AGENT (director: Michael Curtiz; screenwriter: from the novel by R.H. Bruce Lockhart/Laird Doyle; cinematographer: Ernest Haller; editor: Thomas Richards; music: ; cast: Leslie Howard (Stephen ‘Steve’ Locke), Kay Francis (Elena Moura), William Gargan (Bob Medill), Phillip Reed (Gaston LeFarge), Irving Pichel (Sergei Pavlov), Ivan Simpson (‘Poohbah’ Evans), Halliwell Hobbes (Sir Walter Carrister), J. Carroll Naish (Commissioner of War Trotsky), Walter Byron (Under Secretary Stanley), Cesar Romero (Tito Del Val), Zozia Tanina (Dora Kaplan, Woman Who Shot Lenin), Gregory Gave (Kolinoff, head of the provisional government); Runtime: 80; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: ; Warner Bros.; 1934)

“Sluggish political drama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Michael Curtiz (“Casablanca”/”Black Fury”/”The Mad Genius”)directs this sluggish political drama that blends together a fictionalized historical political story, filled with intrigue, and a ham-fisted star-crossed romance story. It’s based on the novel byR.H. Bruce Lockhart and is written by Laird Doyle.

The young low-level British diplomatStephen Locke (Leslie Howard) in 1917, on the eve of the Russian Revolution, warns his elder diplomats in London that Russia will leave the war with Germany and sign a separate peace if there’s no British support since the country is unstable under its provisional government and the people are starving. Locke’s then made consul-general and sent to Russia, and on his first night, while attending a British embassy ball, the provisional government falls to Lenin’s Soviet Communists. When Elena Moura (Kay Francis), Lenin’s secretary, hides from a Cossack on the grounds of the British embassy in Moscow, Locke gives her shelter and the two fall in love at first sight despite sharing different ideologies. With Lenin in power, the Allies close down their embassies, leaving only a few non-essential staff behind. One such staffer is Locke, who hangs out with other western diplomats who are in the same boat: LeFarge (Phillip Reed), the French representative, Tito Del Val (Cesar Romero), the Italian, and Bob Medill (William Gargan), the American. The bored men sit around playing poker waiting for further orders. Meanwhile Locke courts the patriotic Elena, who betrays his trust by telling her superiors on the Central Committee that Locke is on his own and is not officially represented by his government when he goes to the Soviets to offer them money and weapons to not sign a separate peace treaty with Germany. Locke is also frustrated that his country fails to take his advise and offer support to Lenin. When the Czar is assassinated, the royalists and White army try to overthrow the Soviets, and Locke, LaFarge, Medill and Del Val come to their aid without official sanction from their governments. This becomes a big problem for them after Lenin is shot and secret police chief Pavlov (Irving Pichel), a thinly disguised Stalin, wants to get proof they aided his enemies so he can execute them and he uses Elena to get the goods on her western boyfriend.

This oddball political film portrays Russia in a better light than Great Britain, showing how they care more about peace than war.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”