A man in London tries to help a counter-espionage Agent. But when the Agent is killed, and the man stands accused, he must go on the run to save himself and stop a spy ring which is trying to steal top secret information.
While holidaying in Switzerland, Lawrence and his wife Jill are asked by a dying friend, Louis Bernard, to get information hidden in his room to the British Consulate. They get the information, but when they deny having it, their daughter Betty is kidnapped. It turns out that Louis was a Foreign Office spy and the information has to do with the assassination of a foreign dignitary. Having managed to trace his daughter's kidnappers back to London, Lawrence learns that the assassination will take place during a concert at the Albert Hall. It is left to Jill, however, to stop the assassination.Written by
Hitch and the "Anarchist Revolt" of 1911 in London
In the novel, THE SECRET AGENT, Joseph Conrad had dissected the world of anarchists, double agents and spies, and police in the East End of London of 1894, the year that an attempt to destroy the Greenwich Observatory occurred. Alfred Hitchcock used Conrad's novel for his film SABOTAGE in 1936. But two years earlier he did the film THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH. It was the first of two films in which Peter Lorre was directed by him. It was also the only one of his movies that he remade complete with title. But he decided to use the film to film a scene from British criminal history - the January 1911 "Siege of Sidney Street".
There had been an incident in December 1910 when several Russian aliens were involved in a burglary in Houndsditch. The proceeds of their robberies (aside from supporting themselves) helped fund anti-Tsarist activities in Russia. They killed three constables in making their escape from the shop. They were eventually tracked down to a house on Sidney Street, and fired at the police who tried to get them to surrender. The Home Secretary of the day (a politician named Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill) sent out troops, sharp shooters, and artillery. The cannon set the house on fire, and the men found inside were found to be dead. The best account of the event is Donald Rumbelow's THE SIEGE OF SIDNEY STREET called THE HOUNDSDITCH MURDERS in Great Britain.
Here, instead of radicals (called anarchists in 1911) we have foreign conspirators planning an assassination in London of a foreign head of state. Peter Lorre is the leader. Leslie Banks and his family are on vacation to Switzerland. Banks witnesses the murder of a Frenchman (Pierre Fresney, a great French star of the period - this English film is a rarity for him). Fresney reveals the assassination plot to Banks, and Lorre and his associates kidnap his daughter (Nora Pilbeam) to keep his mouth shut. But the police are aware that he heard something from Fresney, and try to pressure him to talk.
So we watch Banks try to track down his daughter (and get captured himself) while his wife goes to the Albert Hall to see what she can do.
The finale of the film is based on the Siege - with some exceptions (one of the bobbies in the Houndsditch tragedy is shot and killed in the start of the movie's version of the incident). But Hitchcock maintains the suspense to the end, when the last villain is taken care of.
It's an interesting film - not a great one. And it is somewhat different from the 1956 remake.
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