May 20, 2018

Warner Archive Releases 1939 Joel McCrea Spy Flick ESPIONAGE AGENT

It's been a while since the Warner Archive has dipped into their spy library. But last week WB's MOD branch announced the first-ever DVD release of the historically notable 1939 spy film Espionage Agent, starring Joel McCrea (Foreign Correspondent) and the stunning Brenda Marshall. Espionage Agent is not a great film, but its historic significance makes it one well worth seeking out for scholars of spy cinema and espionage history.

Like McCrea's next (and far better) spy film, Foreign Correspondent (1940, review here), Espionage Agent is pure propaganda. But it's espousing the exact opposite sentiment of the later Hitchcock movie! While Hitchcock's film serves to warn America that the dawn of WWII is no time for complacency, and that America has an obligation to come to the aid of her allies in Europe and to stand up to the Nazi menace, Espionage Agent makes a case for isolationism. Yet it also makes a case that America needs a dedicated, international counter-intelligence service, which, of course, it didn't have at the time. So for students of spy history, it's a very interesting picture. The basic case is that if the U.S.A. has a spy agency along the lines of what the CIA would eventually become, then that will be enough to keep the country safe from overseas threats like Hitler's Germany, and there need be no more discussion about getting involved with the war in Europe - talk that's all stirred up by German agents anyway, according to the movie. (Why would Germany have wanted America to enter the war? Britain certainly had agents working that angle, but Germany was pretty intent on keeping us out....) Naive politics that have dated poorly aside, Espionage Agent is also worth watching for its place in film history when Hollywood was struggling with how to portray a heroic American "espionage agent." At the time, remember, spies were nearly always bad guys, and it was up to policemen and reporters (as in Foreign Correspondent) and costumed avengers (in the serials) and regular Joes to thwart their nefarious schemes. It wouldn't be until the Cold War and James Bond that we started to see proper, professional spy heroes on screen with any regularity, but Espionage Agent is a curious stepping stone worth checking out.

The Warner Archive made-on-demand DVD retails for $21.99 but can, as always, be found at a discount on Amazon. (Remember, purchases made through links on this blog benefit the Double O Section, which takes up far more of my time than any small commissions will ever compensate for, but every little bit helps!)

Read my full review of Espionage Agent, written in the early days of this blog, here.

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