Feb. 11, 2008

I See a Dark Stranger (1946)
Grade: 51/100

Director: Frank Launder
Stars: Deborah Kerr, Trevor Howard, Raymond Huntley

What it's about. It is 1944. Bridie Quilty (Deborah Kerr) is a hottie young Irish patriot. She seethes with resentment toward the British, whom she believes has subjugated her country for centuries. Bridie celebrates her 21st birthday by travelling from her remote village to Dublin, where she hopes to join an anti-British underground movement.

And she finds one, locally run by an insightful British-looking man named Miller (Raymond Huntley). Miller, and now Bridie, are spies employed by Germany, which is desperate to find out when and where D-Day will take place. Mock drills of D-Day, the American and British invasion of France, are taking place on the Isle of Man.

Bridie is dispatched there to send intelligence to Germany via traitorous Brits. But she is not alone. She is accompanied by Trevor Howard, a British officer smitten with her. Howard is unreasonably determined to chase and conquer the mysterious hot-and-cold Bridie, unaware that she is a hunted spy who carries information that could ruin D-Day. Never mind that the A-bomb, which would win the war for the Allies in any event, is only a year away.

Inevitably, Bridie has an epiphany, and realizes that Britain, represented by heroic Howard, is in the right and Germany is in the wrong. This allows her to become a completely sympathetic character, at least to the film's British audience.

But by this time Bridie's in a great deal of trouble, hunted by both the British military and the German agents. Will she escape them both? Will Howard learn her secret and turn her in? More importantly, will he ever get to have sex with her? Are all the answers as obvious and crowd-pleasing as we expect them to be?

How others will see it. This is a suspenseful spy drama with good guys (the British), bad guys (Nazi agents), and one misguided woman, Bridie. All this provides male interest.

Females are to be enticed by the romance between manly-man Trevor Howard, star of the sumptuously soapy Brief Encounter (1945), and the perpetually imperiled Deborah Kerr, who was then relatively unknown. Kerr's sun would soon shine brighter than even that of Howard, after Black Narcissus (1947) caused such a stir.

With well-tailored appeal to 1946 Brits of both genders, the only question left is how will a "modern" American audience regard it? From their viewpoint, it looks old, it's in black and white, and the accents are odd. This leaves only loyal classic film viewers, who are familiar with both Kerr and Howard, and are likely to thoroughly enjoy the film.

How I felt about it. There are attempts at comedy in I See a Dark Stranger, personified by two clueless and lookalike middle-aged British officers who can't find the hottie Irish spy in the Isle of Man even when she is standing right in front of them. This droll humor misfires, but not as badly as when a funeral procession housing the Nazi spies unravels into a screwball chase and slugfest.

The romance is also unconvincing. Kerr brings new meaning to the term "hard to get," while Howard simply refuses to accept the brush off. Despite ample proof that his quarry is mentally unsound, he chases her from one country to another, dubiously coincident with a leave of absence.

But the suspense is telling. We especially like the mortally wounded Miller's bedroom visit to Bridie. Misguided or not, he is one devoted spy.