Tuesday 10 November 2020

Movie Review: Dark Journey (1937)

A World War One spy adventure, Dark Journey offers intriguing nuggets but is hampered by shallow characters and unintelligible execution.

In the spring of 1918, Stockholm-based high-end fashion store owner and Swiss national Madeleine Goddard (Vivien Leigh) undertakes a risky journey to Paris. In flashback, her activities are revealed. Working secretly for French intelligence, she pretends to be a German spy in neutral Sweden, feeding the Germans military intelligence hidden in code woven into the fabric of clothes imported from Paris.

At a fancy nightclub Madeleine meets and falls in love with German playboy aristocrat and retired veteran Baron Karl Von Marwitz (Conrad Veidt), causing concern about her loyalties. With the level of mistrust rising, Madeleine finds her life endangered and has to attempt a daring escape.

Despite a radiant Vivien Leigh portraying the protagonist as a confident businesswoman and crafty spy, Dark Journey is close to being inept. Director Victor Saville displays no understanding of what it takes to introduce characters and build tension. Scenes come and go at random, interchangeable agents from various countries show up without context and bounce off each other to no effect. The supporting cast is underwhelming, and with everyone speaking in English accents and no uniforms in sight, it is often difficult to even discern which team anyone is on.

The romance elements are eroded by the very visible twenty years of age difference between Leigh and Veidt, and for a clearly capable woman, Madeleine's attraction to a man introduced as a sleazy lothario is beyond puzzling.

Some of the locations are eye-catching, including the glitzy Stockholm nightclub and Madeleine's swish store. But the clumsiness continues when the film moves to the brief action scenes. Saville throws in one in-the-trenches clip for the sake of filming a single explosion. And the interceptions-at-sea sequences are repetitive for a 77 minute movie, with an overkill climax representing clever deception but also what must be the most complex mission ever conceived to help one spy escape.

Dark Journey features one smart woman surrounded by foolishness all around the camera.

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