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
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.
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
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
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
"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
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
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 travelers—Reggie
had joined them in Lisbon—are
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
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.
Reggie and Tim arrest Grenner
Reggie and Tim arrest Grenner
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
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
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.
to Page One
Images on this page and pages one and three are from
the film International Lady.