The chief pleasure of this one is to see Hitchcock refining many of the things that became his trademarks. He always favored showing close-ups of people doing things without showing their faces, for instance, a woman hands as she packs her bags to leave her lover. He tells the story in a silent manner when he can. There is an extended scene in an incredibly loud chocolate factory. People are
talking, but you can’t hear a word. We understand what they are saying by their faces and gestures, how they react to each other. Pure Hitchcock. After that, there is the fun of seeing a very young John Gielgud, looking dyspeptic and quite uncomfortable in the role. (He was filming this during the day, and at night performing in Romeo and Juliet.) Add to that the always scene-stealing Peter Lorre as a manic “general” from … I dunno, somewhere down south, I think. That man was amazing, able to be both creepy and hilarious at the same time. As for the story … it’s not much, really, It’s muddled, concerning an undercover mission to assassinate a spy working against England in WWI. Gielgud and his new love, Madeleine Carroll, begin to suffer doubts about their mission after they mistakenly are involved in the killing of the wrong man. (The man’s little dog senses his master’s danger from miles away, and when the man is pushed over the edge of a cliff, the dog howls!) Things reach a point where there is little to do but stage a massive train derailment to bring everything to an end, where all the people we don’t like die and the people we do like live and get married. Really rather silly. You can feel the screenwriter’s desperation.