SECRET MISSION. General Film Distributors-UK, 1942. Hugh Williams, Carla Lehmann, Roland Culver, Michael Wilding, James Mason, with Stewart Granger, Herbert Lom. Director: Harold French.

   The sole purpose of the movie seems obvious: to boost the morale of the home front during the early days of World War II. Four men, including one member of the Free French (James Mason) undertake a daring mission into occupied France to obtain useful information about German positions and armaments and to free an important prisoner of war.


   Carla Lehmann plays Michele de Carnot, the sister of Mason’s character Raoul, as the only other important member of the cast.

   She dislikes the English, causing some plot complications, but she hates the Germans more, which relieves some of the viewers’ concerns considerably. She also finds herself falling in love with Major Peter Garnett (Hugh Williams), the leader of the secret mission, which provides the romance the story line needs.

   There is also more than a tinge of screwball comedy in this film, provided in part by the utter stupidity of the Germans in this film, but also by Michael Wilding’s antics as the Cockney-accented owner of a French pub, on this mission very reluctantly for fear of returning home to his ever-demanding wife. (In case you are wondering, yes, this is same Michael Wilding who later married Elizabeth Taylor.)


   The only reason, I am sure, that this movie is known at all, is that James Mason is in it. He’d been in films for about seven years when this movie is made, but he is not the star, far from it.

   The leading role is that of Hugh Williams, who plays stalwart very well. He’s not devil-may-care enough to play The Saint for example, but he’d make a decent Bulldog Drummond, I think.

   Part of the plan, as it works out, is rather daring if not out-and-out unlikely. Putting on a pair of rimless glasses, Major Garnett disguises himself as a wine salesman and with another of his small group of companions, walks right into German headquarters where they’re left alone in the commandant’s office long enough to take all of the photos they need to complete the rest of the mission, which expands to blowing up a secret underground bunker.


   A goal which also seems to require their walking around in woods at night in suits, neckties and trenchcoats, and hiding in bushes when German patrols go by, including an armored vehicle of some sort that plays loud segments of Wagnerian opera as it travels through the local area every minute of the day and night.

   When that seems to go well, they walk into town and sit in bars next to German soldiers taking a break from their patrols, allowing the proprietress to feed their unwary adversaries false identities for them as Gestapo officers.

   If you were to tell me that both of these last two paragraphs sound like something straight out of Tommy Hambledon’s adventures, I’d agree with you, except that the pair of authors who wrote Manning Coles usually made the reader swallow their stories. Maybe escapades like this sound more plausible in print than they do on film.

   Or maybe it’s that this isn’t a very good movie. I found it enjoyable enough, but I have a feeling that it would be very easy to tear the plot apart, shred by shred, if I were so inclined.

   I’ll refrain from doing so, though, and let my description stand for itself, thus allowing you to decide for yourself whether this low budget wartime film with higher aspirations is worth 90 minutes of your spare time.