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THE SPY IN BLACK

Director: MICHAEL POWELL

82 minutes| U.K.| 1939| Black and White| 35mm


The Hungarian-born writer Emeric Pressburger had worked in German and French cinema before moving to Britain. His first encounter with Powell, engineered by their studio head Alexander Korda, led to an immediate meeting of minds, based on the radical ideas they shared about narrative structure. The first five minutes of The Spy in Black, one of the most brilliant openings to any film ever, act as a dynamic trailer to the years of their partnership. The spy of the title is Conrad Veidt, a German submarine commander embarking on a mission to sabotage the British fleet off the Scottish coast in 1917. The topicality of the theme ensured a wide release in the U.S., as well as Britain, at the start of WW2; the use of a charismatic German star as protagonist was typical of Powell and Pressburger’s resistance to simplistic us-and-them propaganda templates, and of the consistently international, cross-cultural dimension of the films that would follow.

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