British Agent is by all means a forgotten film, but yet it is full of redeeming features- even if the end result is perhaps one of opportunity lost. Starring Leslie Howard, as Britisher Steve Locke, and Kay Frances, as his eventual love interest, Elena. Also in the mix is an extremely young Cesar Romero, who isn’t on screen to any great extent, but delights us when he is.
Perhaps the true star of the film never comes on screen at all. That person would be director Michael Curtiz . With the content British Agent covers the fact that Michael Curtiz gets it all into a mere eighty minutes is astounding. But again, you’d expect that of the no nonsense director.
So what exactly is British Agent all about? On the surface it is a mere history lesson. Locke (Leslie Howard) works in the British Embassy in Russa at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution. (Technically he arrives between the two Russian revolutions, the first being from the “Whites” and the second from the “Reds.”) If you are a student of history of the period, you will know that England was very much in favor of Russia staying in the war against Germany, if for no other reason than to keep additional troops out of the Western Front.
Ultimately Russia under the Reds does – in the film- (and did in reality) choose peace with Germany but it is Locke who is tasked to entice the new Bolshevik government to continue the war. Along the way – actually on the eve of the revolution, he meets an ardent Red, Elena (Kay Francis) and is smitten on site.
About halfway through the historical aspect diminishs somewhat and the romance takes hold, given the limited time which is permitted it. With the short running time there truly isn’t much time for the development of anything, plot, character, or otherwise. This is perhaps what truly hamstrings the picture from being much better.
Old Mr. Locke seems a bit flippant or perhaps simply lovestruck as he does along the way reveal a bit too much information to Elena, but again we don’t have much time to gather the impact, if any, of this in the long term.
The best aspects are the direction, which, as mentioned is truly good with what most all would label as subpar material. The cast does well too and production values are really quite good, as you can tell substantial effort was put into the sets and the vast number of extras milling about. It seems odd that such ingredients were left without the proper time for gestation. With an additional 20 minutes of run time much more additional depth – and explanation- could have been added quite easily.
As is, British Agent isn’t much more than a roughly accurate overview of a seldom documented period in history. This in itself is hard to explain as you’d think the Russian revolutions would easily lend themselves to highly dramatic and vivid films. Oh well.
Marginally recommended based on the direction and cast. It truly isn’t great but still undeservedly forgotten. A good example of the ingredients falling far short of the end product. As of this writing, I don’t believe this is available online – and definitely isn’t on standard DVD.