Friday, September 7, 2012

Dark Journey

Dark Journey (Victor Saville, 1937) All's fair in love and World War I—but when love and war are running congruently, neck and neck, that's when things really get dicey.  Especially when the warring lovers are spies, spying on each other.  There's Madeleine Goddard (Vivien Leigh) is a designer and couture diva who regularly makes a shopping run between France and Switzerland, cloaking her activities as an agent for the British.  She moves through the hoi-poloi (who never seem aware there's a war going on) attracting all the best customers, none of them suspecting that her decorative scarves and pattern swatches contain secret plans and schematics.  Her assignment—find out who's the head of the German intelligence agency, Section 8.  Enter the snakily charming Baron Karl von Marwitz (Conrad Veit), a German deserter who caddishly trolls the gargantuan supper-clubs with their high ceilings and higher society for the more low hanging fruit of females.  It is through one of his companions that he becomes acquainted with Madeleine, becomes smitten and just a little stalkerish with her.  For some reason, she finds this attractive and the two begin a wary relationship.

Yeah, well, hunt a tiger...and opposites attract, and all that.  It isn't giving away any state secrets that the revelations that ultimately come about are a little less than surprising.  Nor is it surprising that two intelligence agents so visibly hiding in plain sight might not actually be that effective (C'mon kids, it's called "undercover" for a reason).  Imagine the dinner table conversation: "What did you do today?" "Nothing.  And you?"  "Same thing."  Double crossing does not "go" with star-crossing.

Anyway, you thought YOU had a complicated relationship.  This was a few years before Leigh would toss away such behavior with a dismissive "Fiddle-dee-dee."  And it's fun to watch the complications that ensue when the two spies are a little too loose with their lips.  It's amazing that WWI was won at all.

The costumes and sets are lavish (and very un-WWI era).  Leigh and Veidt do very well conveying conflicting loyalties, but the plot is a bit spare in details as to be confusing.  It's never really determined who has the upper hand—is Madeleine basically a "honey-trap" to seduce the German and get him where he can easily be captured, or is it all a misinformation campaign by either side.  Whatever it is, the romance is the least charged of the themes in the film, even though Leigh and Veidt try their damnedest to be anything more than inscrutable.  It's an interesting spy melodrama, it's just that there's not a lot to love.

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