International Lady
Page Two

Basil Rathbone, disguised as a waiter, and George Brent

Disguised as a waiter, Inspector Oliver (Basil Rathbone) unceremoniously barges in on Carla Nilsson (Ilona Massey) and G-man Tim Hanley (George Brent). Photo by Tom Evans


International Lady

A good espionage melodrama, lavishly produced. As in most pictures of this type, the story is somewhat far-fetched; yet the methods employed by the spies to pass on their information to their agents result in exciting screen fare. And naturally one is held in suspense, since the lives of the secret service men following these spies are endangered. The romance is developed in a routine fashion:

George Brent, an American G-Man, is in London to work with Scotland Yard in tracking down a dangerous gang of spies. Brent knows that Ilona Massey, a beautiful young singer, was a member of the gang. He manages to become acquainted with her, without divulging his identity. Brent learns that Basil Rathbone, a Scotland Yard operative posing as a music critic, had been assigned to the same case; they decide to work together. But Brent, believing he could better trace the gang if he could get Miss Massey to America, obtains for her a U.S. visa; Rathbone goes right along with him, giving Miss Massey an explanation that he had been transferred to a New York paper. When the clipper arrives in New York, Miss Massey is met by Marjorie Gateson, wife of a wealthy candy manufacturer (Gene Lockhart), who was to sponsor Miss Massey's radio career. Lockhart is in reality the head of the sabotage gang. Brent is invited to a party at Lockhart's home, at which Miss Massey was to sing over the radio. To his surprise he finds Rathbone there, disguised as a waiter. Both men feel certain that the song Miss Massey had sung over the radio was the code for a message; and they are correct. When Miss Massey learns that Brent was a secret service man, she tells Lockhart about it. He orders her to lure Brent to a roof garden club, where they would kill him. But she, having fallen in love with Brent, tries to warn him; she receives the shot intended for him. The saboteurs are finally trapped, and Miss Massey recovers. Since she had broken off connections with the spies, she and Brent plan a happy life together.

E. Lloyd Sheldon and Jack DeWitt wrote the story, and Howard Estabrook, the screen play; Tim Whelan directed it, and Edward Small produced it. In the cast are Francis Pierlot, Martin Kosleck, Charles D. Brown, and others.

Morally suitable for all.

Harrison's Reports, October 4, 1941


Reggie and Tim work to solve the code in the music.

The FBI and Oliver listen in as Hanley talks with Carla on the phone. Sewell (Clayton Moore) takes notes.


An exciting and entertaining melodrama. Filled to the last reel with international saboteurs, FBI agents, and Scotland Yard operatives, "International Lady" qualifies for at  least featured billing by Senatorial isolationist. With sufficient advance steaming up, extolling its merits as a thriller, the film should be a business getter in every type of theatre except in New York's Yorkville.

There are no subtleties as to the fundamentals in the screenplay. The facts are simply stated: that sabotage by Hitlerites must be stamped out. In this highly commendable undertaking, British and American spies, under various aliases and disguises, vie with each other. It's a tie contest as George Brent, U.S.A., and Basil Rathbone, of Scotland Yard, finish up with Hitler's head man handcuffed between them. In the matter of romance Brent is out front for the affections of Ilona Massey. Miss Massey is here doing her first straight film role, and acquits herself, both photogenically and histrionically, in a manner that guarantees more frequent screen appearance.

To attempt a plot summary would require a dozen code keys. But highlighted in the story is an amazing new method of spy communication by which the tonal phrasings and melodies of a broadcast aria, sung by Miss Massey, reveals to U-boat captains and German bombers the whereabouts of aircraft and supply ships enroute from Canada to Britain. It's even much more complicated than that, because the headquarters of the saboteurs in America (in Yonkers of all places) must be destroyed.

Success formula for this type of spy yarn lies chiefly in the pace of the action, the building of suspense over long range footage, and reasonable explanation of identities and motives of the leading characters. All of these requirements are ably handled by Tim Whelan, who directed.

Pictorially  the production is unusually appealing. Hal Mohr has enhanced the theme with excellent shots of air, land and sea action. Modern equipment of radio recordings, playbacks and the machinery and tricks used in spy hunting, are interestingly shown. Some of the portrait shots of Miss Massey are very beautiful. Too bad that the script has her on the wrong team.

There are also some excellent contributions by the supporting players, notably Gene Lockhart and Marjorie Gateson, who plays a society hostess without a thought about the new income tax schedules.

"International Lady" is up to the minute war melodrama.


Variety, October 13, 1941


Following a clue, Reggie finds the saboteurs working in a granary.

Tim rescues Reggie from a silo full of flax, which nearly suffocated him.


International Lady

Edward Small has given the Mata Hari formula of 'International Lady' a new dress, making for a rollicking spy drama, liberally dosed with gag quips to keep the formula light. There is excessive footage that slows the pace at times, but the chuckles are spontaneous and the climaxes tense to insure audiences of much that is enjoyable. The production mounting by Small is smartly valued, the cast are all happy choices and every factor reflects a showmanly credit to the producer for this United Artists picture.

Ilona Massey at last is given a chance to display her ability and she registers on every count. Her performance does much to establish her as one of the most charming, most competent foreign actresses in Hollywood, gifted with a voice, talent and striking allure. George Brent and Basil Rathbone evenly divide the male starring roles, the latter in a surprise characterization. Instead of the expected menacing leers, Rathbone hands out plenty of laughs with a delightful portrayal of a Scotland Yard inspector. Brent matches wits with Rathbone as the Federal agent with an ease and smoothness that is all on the credit side.

Opening its plot during a bombing raid on London, the locale is switched first to Lisbon and then to New York and the surrounding countryside as Brent and Rathbone shadow Miss Massey in an effort to clean up a band of spies and saboteurs hampering England's and America's defense workings. There is a romance between Brent and Miss Massey, but the story by E. Lloyd Sheldon and Jack Dewitt, ably scripted by Howard Estabrook, doesn't whitewash her activities and ends without her receiving a phoney pardon for dirty work.

Gene Lockhart, George Zucco, Francis Pierlot and Martin Kosleck form a tough spy ring, each shading the part for melodramatic effect. Marjorie Gateson, as the wife of Lockhart; Charles D. Brown, Leland Hodgson, Clayton Moore, Gordon DeMain and Frederic Worlock complete the able supporting cast of credited players.

Tim Whelan's direction has a tendency to over-develop many of the situations, but is generally capable, dealing out the laughs, instilling a nonchalance in the players to fit the lighter mood and finishing each climactic point with a sock. Small shares his production credits between Stanley Logan as associate producer, Grant Whytock as assistant to the producer and supervising film editor, and Max B. Golden as production manager.

Hal Mohr has given Miss Massey striking photography, and draws credit for a craftsmanlike job with his lensing of the excellent sets, adding light and motion to the story. Howard Anderson did a first rate job of the special photographic effects. Lud Gluskin's musical direction and the score by Lucien Moraweck are top-notch, and the other departments are equally first class.

Daily Variety, October 13, 1941


Tim and Reggie confront the spies in the granary.

Arresting Colonel Wentzel, a.k.a. "Webster" the butler


International Lady
Espionage Melodrama

Tim Hanley (George Brent), an American G-man, is spreading a counter-espionage net for blonde Carla Nillson (Ilona Massey) in the blackout of London. Hanley poses as a lawyer on business for the U.S. Embassy and takes her to a smart night-club bomb shelter during a raid. She asks him to help her obtain a visa for the United States so that she can accept concert and radio engagements.

They are joined by Reggie Oliver (Basil Rathbone), apparently a newspaper critic interested in Carla, but actually a Scotland Yard operative assigned to watch her. Tim and Reggie decide to work together. Tim gets her a visa and they leave for Lisbon, to catch the clipper to New York. In Lisbon, Carla visits the music shop of Senor Bruner (Martin Kosleck), one of the sabotage gang. He provides her with a song arrangement which is a code whereby she can broadcast to members of the gang in America.

In New York the travelersReggie had joined them in Lisbonare met by Mrs. Grenner (Marjorie Gateson), wife of Sidney Grenner (Gene Lockhart), a candy manufacturer who is to sponsor Carlo's radio debut, and, incidentally head of the sabotage gang. The party goes to the Grenner's Long Island estate where the broadcast is to take place.

Reggie gets the sheet music and passes it to Hanley. Hanley finds the code and tosses his notes to a waiting FBI man in the garden. Grenner's butler, Webster (George Zucco), notes Hanley's action and knocks him unconscious. Carla rushes to his side and discovers an FBI badge. She hides the badge until Webster has searched Hanley and then restores it to him. Hanley is revived and manages to quiet the suspicions of Grenner and Webster.

The next day Carla confesses to Grenner and Webster that Hanley is a G-man. A plan is mapped out whereby Hanley is invited to her Fourth-of July concert. Her singing is to be the signal to the saboteurs. Later she is to lure Hanley to a hotel roof garden, where Webster will shoot him. As Webster levels the gun, Carla throws herself in front of Hanley and receives the bullet. Meanwhile, the FBI has broken the code and set out to the old granary to capture the gang. Carla recovers.

Motion Picture Herald, August 9, 1941, p. 206


Reggie and Tim arrest Grenner

Reggie and Tim arrest Grenner


International Lady

Spy Saga

Edward Small presents in "International Lady" a spy story of no small proportions, laid against a background of London, Lisbon, New York and Long Island, that is as contemporary as this very minute.

Although the picture opens with an air raid in London, and is concerned with the exertions of the F.B.I. and Scotland Yard to circumvent the attempts of saboteurs to impede the flow of American planes and flying fortresses to England, emphasis is placed on the development and denouement of the plot, rather than on international enmities.

George Brent is an American G-Man, posing as a lawyer connected with the United States Embassy and Basil Rathbone is a Scotland Yard detective, posing as a musical critic. Both are interested in Ilona Massey, a famous singer, whom they suspect of espionage. They all meet in London, then Lisbon, and eventually come to New York, where Miss Massey sings on the air under the auspices of Gene Lockhart, a wealthy candy manufacturer, who is in reality the head of a gang of saboteurs. Her songs are in code and give instructions to their operators about plane shipments to England. How the plotters are finally caught by both Brent and Rathbone is melodrama at its best.

Miss Massey loses her heart to George Brent, who follows suit and almost loses her life to save him. Although he must arrest her, they both aspire to a happier life when peace has again descended.

The cast is splendid, George Brent making a handsome and ingratiating G-Man, Ilona Massey, a lovely singer and saboteur, and Basil Rathbone, an impeccable representative of Scotland Yard, providing a dash of humor in his endeavour to understand American slang.

The original story by E. Lloyd Sheldon and Jack DeWitt and screenplay by Howard Estabrook is contemporary, clever and filled with action and suspense and Tim Whelan, the director, has extracted the maximum of melodrama in its unfolding.

Previewed at the company projection room before a small audience, mostly professional and club women, who appeared interested. Irene Smolen

Motion Picture Herald, October 18, 1941


Carla recovering in hospital

On the plane back to England

See Page Three for pictures of posters, lobby cards and promo photos.

Back to Page One


Images on this page and pages one and three are from the film International Lady.



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All original content is Marcia Jessen, 2018