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  State Secret He Knows, You Know
Year: 1950
Director: Sidney Gilliat
Stars: Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Glynis Johns, Jack Hawkins, Walter Rilla, Karel Stepanek, Leonard Sachs, Herbert Lom, Robert Ayres, Olga Lowe, Therese Van Kye, Howard Douglas, Martin Boddey, Russell Waters, Arthur Howard, Carl Jaffe, Anton Diffring, Eric Pohlmann
Genre: Drama, Thriller, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Dr John Marlowe (Douglas Fairbanks Jr) is in the European dictatorship of Vosnia, a small but isolated nation which is ruled over by General Niva (Walter Rilla). But Marlowe, an American in Britain, has been called upon by the Vosnian authorities to assist their leader, for he has been under the weather recently. In fact, he needs a vital operation, and Marlowe being a doctor and erstwhile surgeon is the man they want to carry it out, a simple procedure that he can perform and leave the country with none of the public knowing about it, as secrecy is paramount in this society. However, there is an issue with the operation that sees Niva somewhat incapacitated - and if he were to die, there would be dire consequences for the medical man...

So guess what happens? You may be one step ahead of State Secret initially, but much of that was down to the opening ten minutes which establish Marlowe is living in fear of his life and has been captured by the leader of the Vosnian military, who was played by the distinctly non-Eastern European Jack Hawkins with a sinister twinkle in his eye. The rest is largely flashback to fill in the details as to how our hero wound up in this mountain retreat surrounded by soldiers wielding guns, which we would return to at the end of the movie. As with Hawkins, it was filled with amusing character bits from a bunch of British and British-based thespians, and it had the novelty of its leading lady not showing up until the story was almost halfway over.

Though she did make up for that by being in just about every scene thereafter. This was very well-received in its day, with many referring to it as one of the best British pictures of its year, just about everyone making flattering comparisons to Alfred Hitchcock, who of course had left Blighty for Hollywood pastures new and only intermittently returned to make projects there. It was certainly pattered after something like The 39 Steps with its man on the run premise, though one difference was that the authorities in pursuit here were thoroughly bad 'uns, and not misguided by not being in possession of the full facts of the case: they know Marlowe has information that could prove highly damaging to them, and there's no way they intend to allow him to cross the borders with that in his head to be blabbed to anyone who asks (though they assume he would be believed).

Fairbanks, a well-known Anglophile, took to the post of Yank in a Limey movie like a duck to water, since his image was always that of the urbane gentleman which suited the British idea of a protagonist in a film like State Secret: he is almost always well-dressed, and even smokes a pipe (!). That leading lady was Glynis Johns, whose star was on the rise and this effort helped it do so; she played a singer in a cabaret act who was half-English so could communicate with Marlowe, which is why he picks her out when on the run as an ally. Another amusing aspect was they Vosnians used an invented language especially devised for the production - if you thought that kind of thing started with Klingon, think on, and it was funny to hear the cast speaking in what was effectively gobbledegook no matter how carefully it had been composed. Elsewhere, Herbert Lom was a conman, and he always added character to whatever movie he was in, so if this was an episodic watch, and a little past its prime in comparison to thrillers that came later in the decade, it was a fair potboiler with many diverting elements, like the first person perspective early in the story. Music by William Alwyn.

[Network release this on Blu-ray as part of The British Film collection.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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