STAMBOUL QUEST (director: Sam Wood; screenwriter: Herman J. Mankiewicz/Leo Birinsky/story by Leo Birinsky; cinematographer: James Wong Howe; editor: Hugh Wynn; music: Herbert Stothart; cast: Myrna Loy (Annemarie Lesser), George Brent (Beall), Lionel Atwill (Von Strum), C. Henry Gordon (Ali Bey), Rudolph Anders (Karl), Mischa Auer (Ameel Roberts), Leo G. Carroll (Agent Kruger), Douglas Dumbrille (General); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Walter Wanger; MGM; 1934)
“So-so hokey WWI tale about spies in love.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The reliable but unspectacular Sam Wood (“The Devil and Miss Jones”/”Our Town”/”A Night At The Opera”)directs thisso-so hokey WWI tale about spies in love, that’s based on a true story about a real female spy, known as “Fraulein Doktor”, called by many the greatest female spy ever. Her mysterious life has never been fully explored since the Germans burned her records, but Hollywood had no trouble filling in the blanks with its own storytelling. In her autobiography Being and Becoming, Myrna Loy, who plays the spy, says that Fraulein Doktor was still alive when Stamboul Quest was filmed. “She’d become a drug addict, lost her mind and landed in a Swiss sanatorium.” Leo Birinsky cowrites it with Herman J. Mankiewicz; it’s based on Birinsky‘s story.
German Kaiser spy Annemarie Lesser (Myrna Loy), in Berlin, in 1915, is a master spy, known in the field as Fräulein Doktor. She works for the German head of the secret service, Von Sturm (Lionel Atwill). After a successful mission she meets her boss in a convent, where she poses as an inmate, and he assigns her the mission of catching in the act the treason of Ali Bey (C. Henry Gordon), the commander of the Turkish Dardanelles, who he suspects is a British spy. Von Sturm assigns Kruger (Leo G. Carroll), one of his agents, to go to Constantinople and bait Ali Bey into connecting with him as a fellow British spy.Annemarie follows Kruger to a dentist’s office, where he reveals himself to be an English spy trying to pass information to an equally traitorous dentist.Douglas Beall (George Brent), an American medical student,is at the dentist office when it’s raided and is taken to Von Sturm for questioning. Beall is released, but the wary Von Strum asks Annemarie to question him on her own. They meet at a restaurant, where he charms her.She now calls herself Helena, but leaves their hotel room when he says he loves her. On a train to Constantinople, the next day, she surprisingly finds him aboard. When the train is bombed by a plane, they both help the wounded and fall madly in love.
InConstantinople, the spies operate as always but this time the spies on the opposite sides of the fence have fallen in love and how that changes things becomes fodder for the standard Hollywood spy story–filled with twists and double-agents.
Stamboul Quest was the first of four films, based on the alleged adventures of Fraulein Doktor.
REVIEWED ON 7/19/2011 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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