Secret Agent (Flashback) (1936)

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Released 28-Aug-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller None
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1936
Running Time 86:27
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Alfred Hitchcock
Gaumont British Pict
Flashback Home Entertainment
Starring John Gielgud
Peter Lorre
Madeleine Carroll
Robert Young
Percy Marmont
Florence Kahn
Charles Carson
Lilli Palmer
Case ?
RPI ? Music None Given

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Although this is a 1936 Alfred Hitchcock film, it is not based on the Joseph Conrad novel The Secret Agent, as his next film would be. Instead, this is based on stories by W. Somerset Maugham, about a secret agent named Ashenden. Set during World War I, a British officer named Edgar Brodie (John Gielgud) is reported as dead so that he can be co-opted into going to Switzerland on a secret mission to find and kill a spy. There, under the name Richard Ashenden he meets a fellow spy who is masquerading as his wife Elsa (Madeleine Carroll), and a Mexican comrade The General (Peter Lorre). His "wife" is being courted by a businessman played by Robert Young. They suspect that a German tourist Caypor (Percy Marmont) is the spy, and then decide how to deal with him.

    This is a minor Hitchcock film, with some of his trademark touches (though not a personal appearance). The scene in the chocolate factory could almost be from one of his silent films, with some striking compositions and very little dialogue. Overall the problems are mainly with the script, which veers from light comedy to thriller to sombre drama in a less than convincing manner. The other problem is that Gielgud is not sympathetic or convincing in the leading role, and he is pretty much acted off the screen by Lorre and even Young.

    All in all, a lesser Hitchcock film, which may only be of interest to diehard fans of the director.

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Transfer Quality


    The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, close to the original 1.37:1.

    This is a fuzzy, blurry transfer. It looks like it is from a video master, with that master being taken from a second or third generation duplicate print. I could still make out a fair amount of detail, but it could not be described as sharp unless prefixed with the word "not". Shadow detail is poor.

    There are no solid blacks and pure whites, just a variety of greys. While watchable, it is not very good.

    I could not detect any film to video artefacts, apart from what looked like analogue video tracking errors in the form of brief horizontal lines from time to time. Film artefacts are omnipresent, including dirt, scratches, flecks, splice marks and reel change markings.

    No subtitles are provided on this single layered disc.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The sole audio track is Dolby Digital 2.0 mono.

    Dialogue is reasonably clear. Unfortunately though there is hiss, some occasional clicks and dropouts, and crackling present throughout much of the picture. There is also a hum audible throughout.

    I cannot say I noticed the music score, which is uncredited. Louis Levy gets a "musical director" credit.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    No extras are provided.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    There is a Region 1 release of this film coupled with Sabotage, and the one review I have seen gives it high marks on both video and audio. On that basis I will award this to Region 1, but as always, caveat emptor.


    A dull film by the Master's standards.

    The video quality is poor.

    The audio quality is poor.

    No extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Friday, September 03, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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