Like a perfectly prepared fine aged steak, this Alexander Korda/Irving Asher production of The Spy in Black (or U-Boat 29) comes in hot, sizzling and rare, offering strong performances by its cast along with the first teaming of director Michael Powell and screenwriter Emeric Pressburger, who would go on to work on 24 pictures including a number of absolute classics across a few genres.
Conrad Veidt is excellent as Captain Hardt, a German U-boat commander whose given the task of meeting with a fellow German, a female spy, as they attempt to deal major damage to British Fleet at Scapa Flow, as war raged on in 1917. As the film begins, Hardy and a fellow seaman arrive back in Germany to almost depleted food resources, even at the finely set officer’s restaurant where steamed fish and carrots are the sole offerings. Amusingly enough, the local newspapers trumpet the country’s U-boats and their sinking of English ships that have allegedly been hitting food supplies there, but they seem a bit suspect in their retelling.
Hardt is ordered to to a bit of infiltration into Scotland, as a plan has neatly been hatched to dispose of a teacher planning to move to a sleepy village near The Old Man of Hoy and with the aid of a disgraced British Navy officer, former Commander Ashington (Sebastian Shaw), who is no fan of the service that did him wrong. Hardt doesn’t want to be a common spy, but orders are orders and surprisingly, his part of the mission gets off to a fine beginning. When he meets his partner in crime, Fräulein Tiel (Valerie Hobson), things go a bit sideways and she locks him in his room every night and as his new commanding officer, keeps him in check even as he makes small advances towards her.