Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Spy in Black

(UK, 1939)

US title: U-Boat 29. Here we have the very first teaming of “The Archers,” England’s best team of writer-directors. They were Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, best known for The Red Shoes, but were also producers of twenty different collaborations over more than twenty years, some of them very, very good. They are always at least interesting.

It’s 1917, and a German U-Boat has penetrated the minefields around the Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands, a strategic naval position for England, and the site of a gathering of a huge fleet. They have put a spy ashore to watch and try to learn when the fleet will sail, and be most vulnerable to submarine attacks. He is aided by traitors on the land in Scotland, a man and a woman. But then it turns out … well, I’ll leave that alone, as it came as a surprise to me.

The print I saw was pretty dreadful, with the dark scenes almost impossible to see, and much of the dialogue unintelligible. But I was able to follow the story well enough, and when the lights are on it’s good to look at.