Arthur B. Woods (director)
Network on Air (studio)
15 April 2019 (released)
18 April 2019
This Brit-Thriller from 1933 is somewhat of a rarity and sports an international cast, foremost Norwegian-born Greta Nissen in the role of an Italian noblewoman living fast and dangerous as a spy during World War 1.
A remake of the 1933 German espionage thriller Spies At Work, the action of ON SECRET SERVICE kicks off in Austria (the year is 1912) where the local Secret Service has come to the conclusion that acclaimed beauty and Italian noblewoman Marcella Galdi (G. Nissen), currently on visit in Vienna, is in fact a spy. The scandal! Diplomacy and discretion is the key, so Marcella is kidnapped during a ball at the famous Sacher Hotel where she just enjoyed a close-up dance with Austrian General von Hombergk (Karl Ludwig Diehl) and it’s back to Italy for her. Later that night, secret papers depicting an Austrian fortress are discovered in the drawer of Hombergk’s desk by the Secret Service. He tries in vain to explain that he has no idea how the plans got into his drawer while at the same time keeping quiet about the fact that he and Marcella have a thing going on… Since the Secret Service doesn’t believe his innocence they expect him to commit suicide but instead, he manages to flee Vienna.
Forward three years and the First World War conflict is ravaging Europe. Italy and Austria are officially sworn enemies and Hombergk sees his chance to clear his name once and for all. Back in Vienna he strikes a deal with the narrow-minded Secret Service people to provide him with an Italian uniform. In disguise, he returns to Italy (my, he does get around a bit) to locate the culprit who jeopardized his life and honour by placing the plans into his drawer in the first place! Luck, however, isn’t exactly on his side for no sooner does he land in Italy where enemy artillery fire wounds him. After waking up in a military hospital he immediately recognises his flame of yonder – Marcella disguised as a nurse on the lookout for enemy agents. Still feeling strongly for him she decides not to grass him up, instead she leaves no stone unturned to guarantee his safe passage back to Vienna as a free man. But Hombergk, understandably pissed that Marcella refuses to tell him the name of the agent who placed the papers into his office, is having none of it and thus decides to stay in Italy. It all gets rather complex now as more and more characters enter the picture: antiques dealer Da Villa (Cecil Ramage), Mr. Bluenzli (Esmé Percy), chief of Italian counter-intelligence Coronella Ramenelli (Lester Matthews), and Count Valenti (Don Alvarado). Of course, what Hombergk cannot guess is that the traitor comes from his own country…
The climax is filled with derring-do action though sadly has no happy end for our hero and heroine…
ON SECRET SERVICE is filled with twists and turns but ultimately somewhat let down by it’s slightly unbalanced pace: thrilling action is followed by wordy sequences before the excitement starts again. The acting is by and large satisfying all ‘round though it should be pointed out that despite best efforts, this brand-new HD transfer still isn’t flawless due to density fluctuations, film warping and missing frames to name but a few issues.
Nonetheless for fans of espionage thrillers this b/w adventure shouldn’t be missed.