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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

I Was a Spy
Theatrical release poster
Directed byVictor Saville
Herbert Mason (Assistant Director)
Frank Sherwin Green (Assistant Director)
Screenplay by
Based onI Was a Spy
by Marthe Cnockaert
Produced byMichael Balcon
CinematographyCharles Van Enger
Edited byFrederick Y. Smith
Music byLouis Levy (music director)
Distributed by
Release dates
  • 4 September 1933 (1933-09-04) (UK)
  • 15 December 1933 (1933-12-15) (USA)
Running time
89 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

I Was a Spy is a 1933 British thriller film directed by Victor Saville and produced by Michael Balcon. It stars Madeleine Carroll as Marthe Cnockaert, Herbert Marshall, and Conrad Veidt. Based on the 1932 memoir I Was a Spy by Marthe Cnockaert, the film is about her experiences as a Belgian woman who nursed German soldiers during World War I while passing intelligence to the British.[1] The film was produced by Gaumont British Picture Corporation with Woolf & Freedman Film Service and Fox Film Corporation distributing in the United Kingdom and the United States respectively.

I Was a Spy was also the first film dubbed in Poland (while there were earlier examples of films dubbed in Polish, they were recorded in Paramount studio in Joinville, France), released in 1935 as Siostra Marta jest szpiegiem, starring Lidia Wysocka as Martha Cnockhaert's voice. The screenplay was written by Ian Hay, W. P. Lipscomb and Edmund Gwenn.[2]

I was a Spy was released to cinemas in the United Kingdom on 4 September, 1933. It was voted the best British film of 1933 and the performance of Carroll was praised.

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In German-occupied Belgium in 1914, a local woman nurses injured German soldiers while passing information to the British.[3]



Filming took place in Shepherds Bush. Producer Michael Balcon sent Herbert Mason (who was initially production manager before becoming an assistant director) to take the script to Belgium and give it to Marthe Cnockaert to look at.[4][3][5]

The script was written by Edmund Gwenn who also portrayed the burgomaster.[6]


I Was a Spy was screened at the Lyric.[7]


In a poll conducted by the magazine Film Weekly, the film was voted the best British movie of 1933,[5][8][9] and Madeleine Carroll's performance was voted the best in a British movie.[10][11]

The Daily Mail (21 November 1933) described it as "the most splendid film produced in this country."[11] The Daily Despatch (21 November 1933) described it as a film "equal to Hollywood's best."[11] Variety and motion picture critic Mordaunt Hall (for The New York Times) praised Carroll's acting.[11]

William Troy for The Nation said, "It is the kind of picture calculated to make us believe that there is something beautiful and touching about war, after all."[12]

Film historian and critic Paul Rotha for Cinema Quarterly said, "I raise my hat to Gaumont for attempting a film of serious stature, but replace it when I see the spirit in which the deed is done."[12]

The Evening News (Rockhampton) (30 May 1934) praised the acting and described it as "[spectacular] in its sweep, human in its emotions, dramatic in its intensity and profoundly gripping in its appeal."[13]

Although it was very successful at the box office,[3] this was not Saville's reaction. He watched the completed I Was a Spy with one of the Assistant Directors, Herbert Mason, and was devastated: however, Mason reassured him that it was his "best to date."[14]

Halliwell's Film & Video Guide described the film as "[good] standard war espionage melodrama."[15]

Adrian Turner for Radio Times said that, "Fans of vintage British cinema will enjoy this sprightly espionage yarn, set during the First World War and bearing a close resemblance to the Mata Hari legend."[16]

In 2021, film critic and author Derek Winnert praised the cast and their performances.[3]

Home media

I Was a Spy was released on DVD on 19 May 2014.[3][11]



  1. ^ BFI Database
  2. ^ Dolny, Zbigniew (24 March 2019). ""Siostra Marta jest szpiegiem" – przedwojenna recenzja dubbingu". Retrieved 23 December 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d e Derek Winnert (25 January 2021). "I Was a Spy". Retrieved 26 May 2022.
  4. ^ Balcon, 1969, p. 74
  5. ^ a b John Pascoe (17 April 2020). Madeleine Carroll (Paperback ed.). McFarland. p. 51. ISBN 9781476675466.
  6. ^ John Pascoe (17 April 2020). Madeleine Carroll (Paperback ed.). McFarland. p. 50. ISBN 9781476675466.
  7. ^ "I Was a Spy". The Sun (Sydney). 13 May 1934. p. 46. Retrieved 6 August 2022. "I Was a Spy," that phenomenal British success, is now being screened at the Lyric
  8. ^ "Film Weekly". 4 May 1934. p. 9.
  9. ^ Brian McFarlane (2005). The Encyclopedia of British Film (2nd ed.). Methuen. p. 622. ...the true war story I Was a Spy, voted Best British film of 1933
  10. ^ "BEST FILM PERFORMANCE LAST YEAR". The Examiner (LATE NEWS EDITION and DAILY ed.). Launceston, Tasmania. 9 July 1937. p. 8. Retrieved 4 March 2013 – via National Library of Australia.
  11. ^ a b c d e John Pascoe (17 April 2020). Madeleine Carroll (Paperback ed.). McFarland. p. 52. ISBN 9781476675466.
  12. ^ a b "I Was a Spy - Movie Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 6 August 2022.
  13. ^ "I Was a Spy". Rockhampton, Australia: The Evening News. 30 May 1934. p. 13. Retrieved 6 August 2022.
  14. ^ Moseley, 2000, p. 69
  15. ^ John Walker (1998). Halliwell's Film & Video Guide (13 ed.). HarperCollins Publishers. p. 381.
  16. ^ Adrian Turner. "I Was a Spy (1934)". Retrieved 6 August 2022.


Primary sources

Secondary sources

  • Balcon, Michael. (1969). Michael Balcon Presents...A Lifetime of Films. Hutchinson & Co Ltd
  • McFarlane Brian. (ed). The Encyclopedia of British Film. Methuen (2nd edition)
  • Moseley, Roy. (2000). Evergreen: Victor Saville in His Own Words. Southern Illinois University Press
  • Pascoe, John. (2020). Madeleine Carroll: Actress and Humanitarian, from The 39 Steps to the Red. McFarland. Paperback
  • Walker, John. (ed). (1998). Halliwell's Film & Video Guide 1998. HarperCollins Entertainment. 13th edition

External links

This page was last edited on 27 September 2023, at 09:20
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