(director/writer: Lewis Gilbert; screenwriters: Vernon Harris/based on the book by R. J. Minney; cinematographer: John Wilcox; editor: John Shirley; music: William Alwyn; cast: Virginia McKenna (Violette Szabo), Paul Scofield (Tony Fraser), Jack Warner (Mr. Bushell), Denise Grey (Mrs. Bushell), Maurice Ronet (Jacques), Alain Saury (Etienne Szabo), Billie Whitelaw (Winnie), Anne Leon (Lillian Rolfe), Sydney Tafler (Potter), Avice Landone (Vera Atkins), Nicole St├ęphane (Denise Bloch), Noel Willman (Interrogator), Bill Owen (N.C.O. Instructor), William Mervyn (Colonel Buckmaster), Michael Goodliffe (Coding Expert), Pauline Challoner (Tania); Runtime: 119; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Daniel M. Angel; MGM/Fox; 1958-UK)

Well-made biopic on patriotic war heroine and martyr Violette Szabo.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Well-made biopic on patriotic war heroine and martyr Violette Szabo (Virginia McKenna), that in a traditional Brit stiff upper lip way honors her real-life story as a spy with a stirring but nevertheless subdued production. Director Lewis Gilbert (“Alfie”/”Educating Rita”/”Shirley Valentine”)cowrites with Vernon Harris. It’s basedon a best-selling biography by R. J. Minney.

Violette Bushell (Virginia McKenna) is a French-speaking 19-year-old shopgirl living in London, in 1940, with a French mom (Denise Grey) and English dad (Jack Warner). She meets French officerEtienne Szabo (Alain Saury) in a London park and marries him three days later. Two years later he’s killed in the North African campaign, at the Battle of El Alamein, and she’s widowed with a two-year-old daughter Tania. Approached by a British Special Operations Executive officer (Sydney Tafler) to be a spy or, as the recruiting officer said, a resistance liaison officer, in occupied France to work with the French resistance, she surprises herself by accepting this dangerous assignment. After undergoing an extensive training program, including paratrooper training, Violette is sent into France in the spring of 1944 to work under seasoned SOE agent Tony Fraser (Paul Scofield) on a mission to aid a resistance unit in the Rouen area, where there’s a possible mole. Violette completes that mission successfully and returns home, only is recruited for a second mission in France to carry out sabotage missions, but this one turns out to be more dangerous and tragic than the first mission and she’s captured by the Germans after helping another agent escape in the woods from a German patrol. Tortured by the Gestapo and executed by a firing squad at a concentration camp by the Nazis, Violette never revealed any information after destroying the code, and is viewed by the British military as an inspiring example of someone who courageously gave her life for her country and the cause of freedom.

It’s a solid old-fashioned war spy drama, with excellent acting, and its sentimental flag-waving never becomes too much even if it offers not even a hint of cynicism at the war effort.