I Was a Spy

Last updated

I Was a Spy
I Was a Spy 1933 Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Victor Saville
Herbert Mason (Assistant Director)
Frank Sherwin Green (Assistant Director)
Screenplay by
Based onI Was a Spy
by Marthe Cnockaert
Produced by Michael Balcon
Cinematography Charles Van Enger
Edited by Frederick Y. Smith
Music byLouis Levy (music director)
Distributed by
Release dates
  • 4 September 1933 (1933-09-04)(UK)
  • 15 December 1933 (1933-12-15)(USA)
Running time
89 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

I Was a Spy is a 1933 British thriller film directed by Victor Saville and produced by Michael Balcon. It stars Madeleine Carroll as Marthe Cnockaert, Herbert Marshall, and Conrad Veidt. Based on the 1932 memoir I Was a Spy by Marthe Cnockaert, the film is about her experiences as a Belgian woman who nursed German soldiers during World War I while passing intelligence to the British. [1] The film was produced by Gaumont British Picture Corporation with Woolf & Freedman Film Service and Fox Film Corporation distributing in the United Kingdom and the United States respectively.


I Was a Spy was also the first film dubbed in Poland (while there were earlier examples of films dubbed in Polish, they were recorded in Paramount studio in Joinville, France), released in 1935 as Siostra Marta jest szpiegiem, starring Lidia Wysocka as Martha Cnockhaert's voice. The screenplay was written by Ian Hay, W. P. Lipscomb and Edmund Gwenn. [2]

I was a Spy was released to cinemas in the United Kingdom on 4 September, 1933. It was voted the best British film of 1933 and the performance of Carroll was praised.


In German-occupied Belgium in 1914, a local woman nurses injured German soldiers while passing information to the British. [3]



Filming took place in Shepherds Bush. Producer Michael Balcon sent Herbert Mason (who was initially production manager before becoming an assistant director) to take the script to Belgium and give it to Marthe Cnockaert to look at. [4] [3] [5]

The script was written by Edmund Gwenn who also portrayed the burgomaster. [6]


I Was a Spy was screened at the Lyric. [7]


In a poll conducted by the magazine Film Weekly , the film was voted the best British movie of 1933, [5] [8] [9] and Madeleine Carroll's performance was voted the best in a British movie. [10] [11]

The Daily Mail (21 November 1933) described it as "the most splendid film produced in this country." [11] The Daily Despatch (21 November 1933) described it as a film "equal to Hollywood's best." [11] Variety and motion picture critic Mordaunt Hall (for The New York Times ) praised Carroll's acting. [11]

William Troy for The Nation said, "It is the kind of picture calculated to make us believe that there is something beautiful and touching about war, after all." [12]

Film historian and critic Paul Rotha for Cinema Quarterly said, "I raise my hat to Gaumont for attempting a film of serious stature, but replace it when I see the spirit in which the deed is done." [12]

The Evening News (Rockhampton) (30 May 1934) praised the acting and described it as "[spectacular] in its sweep, human in its emotions, dramatic in its intensity and profoundly gripping in its appeal." [13]

Although it was very successful at the box office, [3] this was not Saville's reaction. He watched the completed I Was a Spy with one of the Assistant Directors, Herbert Mason, and was devastated: however, Mason reassured him that it was his "best to date." [14]

Halliwell's Film & Video Guide described the film as "[good] standard war espionage melodrama." [15]

Adrian Turner for Radio Times said that, "Fans of vintage British cinema will enjoy this sprightly espionage yarn, set during the First World War and bearing a close resemblance to the Mata Hari legend." [16]

In 2021, film critic and author Derek Winnert praised the cast and their performances. [3]

Home media

I Was a Spy was released on DVD on 19 May 2014. [3] [11]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Leo G. Carroll</span> English actor (1886–1972)

Leo Gratten Carroll was an English actor. In a career of more than forty years, he appeared in six Hitchcock films including Spellbound, Strangers on a Train and North by Northwest and in three television series, Topper, Going My Way, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E..

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Madeleine Carroll</span> English actress (1906–1987)

Edith Madeleine Carroll was an English actress, popular both in Britain and America in the 1930s and 1940s. At the peak of her success in 1938, she was the world's highest-paid actress.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Anna Lee</span> British actress (1913–2004)

Anna Lee, MBE was a British actress, labelled by studios "The British Bombshell".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Michael Balcon</span> English film producer

Sir Michael Elias Balcon was an English film producer known for his leadership of Ealing Studios in West London from 1938 to 1955. Under his direction, the studio became one of the most important British film studios of the day. In an industry short of Hollywood-style moguls, Balcon emerged as a key figure, and an obdurately British one too, in his benevolent, somewhat headmasterly approach to the running of a creative organization. He is known for his leadership, and his guidance of young Alfred Hitchcock.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Edmund Gwenn</span> English actor (1877–1959)

Edmund Gwenn was an English actor. On film, he is best remembered for his role as Kris Kringle in the Christmas film Miracle on 34th Street (1947), for which he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and the corresponding Golden Globe Award. He received a second Golden Globe and another Academy Award nomination for the comedy film Mister 880 (1950). He is also remembered for his appearances in four films directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Conrad Veidt</span> German-British actor (1893–1943)

Hans Walter Conrad Veidt was a German-born British actor. He attracted early attention for his roles in the films Different from the Others (1919), The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), and The Man Who Laughs (1928). After a successful career in German silent films, where he was one of the best-paid stars of UFA, Veidt and his new Jewish wife Ilona Prager left Germany in 1933 after the Nazis came to power. The couple settled in Britain, where he took citizenship in 1939. He appeared in many British films, including The Thief of Bagdad (1940), before emigrating to the United States around 1941, which led to his being cast in what may be his best remembered role as Major Strasser in Casablanca (1942). This was Veidt's last film role to be released during his lifetime.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Herbert Marshall</span> English actor (1890–1966)

Herbert Brough Falcon Marshall was an English stage, screen, and radio actor who starred in many popular and well-regarded Hollywood films in the 1930s and 1940s. After a successful theatrical career in the United Kingdom and North America, he became an in-demand Hollywood leading man, frequently appearing in romantic melodramas and occasional comedies. In his later years, he turned to character acting.

<i>A Yank at Oxford</i> 1938 comedy-drama film

A Yank at Oxford is a 1938 comedy-drama film directed by Jack Conway and starring Robert Taylor, Lionel Barrymore, Maureen O'Sullivan, Vivien Leigh and Edmund Gwenn. The screenplay was written by John Monk Saunders and Leon Gordon. The film was produced by MGM-British at Denham Studios.

Frederick Penrose "Pen" Tennyson was a British film director whose promising career was cut short when he died in a plane crash. Tennyson gained experience as an assistant director to Alfred Hitchcock in several of his British films during the 1930s. Tennyson directed three films between 1939 and his death in 1941.

<i>Dark Journey</i> (film) 1937 British film

Dark Journey is a 1937 British spy film directed by Victor Saville and starring Conrad Veidt and Vivien Leigh. Written by Lajos Bíró and Arthur Wimperis, the film is about two secret agents on opposite sides during World War I who meet and fall in love in neutral Stockholm.

William Percy Lipscomb was a British-born Hollywood playwright, screenwriter, producer and director. He died in London in 1958, aged 71.

<i>The W Plan</i> 1930 film

The W Plan is a 1930 British spy film produced and directed by Victor Saville and starring Brian Aherne, Madeleine Carroll, Gibb McLaughlin, and Gordon Harker. The screenplay was written by Saville with Miles Malleson and Frank Launder, based on the novel of the same name by Graham Seton. When the film was released in the United States, Aherne was appearing in The Barretts of Wimpole Street on Broadway, and receiving praise for his performance as Robert Browning. The film was a critical success, but did not do well at the box office.

<i>Take My Tip</i> 1937 British film

Take My Tip is a 1937 British musical comedy film directed by Herbert Mason, produced by Michael Balcon and starring Jack Hulbert, Cicely Courtneidge, Harold Huth and Frank Cellier.

Samuel George Herbert Mason was a British film director, producer, stage actor, army officer, presenter of some revues, stage manager, stage director, choreographer, production manager and playwright. He was a recipient of the Military Cross the prestigious award for "gallantry during active operations against the enemy." He received the gallantry award for his part in the Battle of Guillemont where British troops defeated the Germans to take the German stronghold of Guillemont.

Lothar Mendes was a German-born screenwriter and film director. His two best known films are Jew Süss (1934) and The Man Who Could Work Miracles (1936), both productions for British studios.

Marthe Mathilde Cnockaert, later Marthe McKenna, was a Belgian spy for the United Kingdom and its allies during the First World War. She later became a novelist, and is credited with writing over a dozen spy novels in addition to her memoirs and short stories.

<i>One Night in Lisbon</i> 1941 film by Edward H. Griffith

One Night in Lisbon is a 1941 American thriller film directed by Edward H. Griffith and starring Fred MacMurray, Madeleine Carroll and Patricia Morison. It was one of a cycle of pro-British films produced in Hollywood before the United States' entry into the war in December 1941. The film is based on John Van Druten's 1931 British play There's Always Juliet, updated to include the current wartime situation.

<i>All Men Are Enemies</i> 1934 film by George Fitzmaurice

All Men Are Enemies is a 1934 American pre-Code drama film directed by George Fitzmaurice and written by Lenore J. Coffee. The film stars Helen Twelvetrees, Mona Barrie, Hugh Williams, Herbert Mundin, Henry Stephenson and Walter Byron. The film was released on April 20, 1934, by Fox Film Corporation. It is based on the 1933 novel of the same title by Richard Aldington.

<i>Its All Yours</i> 1937 film by Elliott Nugent

It's All Yours is a 1937 American comedy film directed by Elliott Nugent and starring Madeleine Carroll, Francis Lederer and Mischa Auer. It was produced and distributed by Columbia Pictures. It has sometimes been counted as a screwball comedy.

Claude Bouxin was a French art director. He designed the film sets for over ninety productions.



  1. BFI Database
  2. Dolny, Zbigniew (24 March 2019). ""Siostra Marta jest szpiegiem" – przedwojenna recenzja dubbingu". Polski-dubbing.pl. Retrieved 23 December 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Derek Winnert (25 January 2021). "I Was a Spy". derekwinnert.com. Retrieved 26 May 2022.
  4. Balcon, 1969, p. 74
  5. 1 2 John Pascoe (17 April 2020). Madeleine Carroll (Paperback ed.). McFarland. p. 51. ISBN   9781476675466.
  6. John Pascoe (17 April 2020). Madeleine Carroll (Paperback ed.). McFarland. p. 50. ISBN   9781476675466.
  7. "I Was a Spy". trove.nla.gov.au. The Sun (Sydney). 13 May 1934. p. 46. Retrieved 6 August 2022. "I Was a Spy," that phenomenal British success, is now being screened at the Lyric
  8. "Film Weekly". 4 May 1934. p. 9.
  9. Brian McFarlane (2005). The Encyclopedia of British Film (2nd ed.). Methuen. p. 622. ...the true war story I Was a Spy, voted Best British film of 1933
  10. "BEST FILM PERFORMANCE LAST YEAR". The Examiner (LATE NEWS EDITION and DAILY ed.). Launceston, Tasmania. 9 July 1937. p. 8. Retrieved 4 March 2013 via National Library of Australia.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 John Pascoe (17 April 2020). Madeleine Carroll (Paperback ed.). McFarland. p. 52. ISBN   9781476675466.
  12. 1 2 "I Was a Spy - Movie Reviews". rottentomatoes.com. Rotten Tomatoes . Retrieved 6 August 2022.
  13. "I Was a Spy". trove.nla.gov.au. Rockhampton, Australia: The Evening News. 30 May 1934. p. 13. Retrieved 6 August 2022.
  14. Moseley, 2000, p. 69
  15. John Walker (1998). Halliwell's Film & Video Guide (13 ed.). HarperCollins Publishers. p. 381.
  16. Adrian Turner. "I Was a Spy (1934)". radiotimes.com. RadioTimes.com. Retrieved 6 August 2022.


Primary sources

Secondary sources