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To be convincing, a movie about a police state must maintain an atmosphere of futility and terror. "State Secret" almost succeeds, but eventually dies out in a weak ending. The acting, photography, and producing cannot carry the plot all the way, though they are excellent in themselves.
Dr. Marlowe, sought by Vosnian secret police because he knows of the death of General Niva, the dictator, is capably played by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Fairbanks portrays the doctor's fear and confusion through facial expressions rather that distraught mouthings common to such roles. Marlowe's trouble with the Vosnian language, which could have been comic if mishandled, is effectively exploited by Fairbanks to increase the suspense. Glynis Johns plays a dancer who tries to help Marlowe, and in doing so becomes one of the principals in a manhunt. She does a convincing job as someone who can never quite decide whether to take a risk or not. The part of a black marketeer forced by Marlowe to finance his escape gets an amusing treatment from Charles Phillips.
"State Secret" has the benefit of resourceful photography. For the most part, the angles and lighting are simple, but John Wilcox, the photography director, uses dramatic shots when they are most needed. An automobile chase and a trip over the Alps are the best shots in the movie, but the most terrifying moment is a shot of Marlowe's guide plummeting thousands of feet down a mountainside.
"State Street" could have been terribly overdone, but Director-producer Sidney Gilliat molds it into a tense and believable story. He begins with Marlowe about to be shot, and then uses flashbacks. This sets up a feeling of hopelessness at the outset which is maintained almost until the end.
The movie should have ended as Marlowe walks out of a border station with fifty rifles pointing at him and chants of "Niva, Niva" coming over the radio in the background. But instead, Marlowe and the dancer are freed. The last scene takes place on a London-bound airplane, where Marlowe and the dancer suddenly become aware of their mutual affections. As the picture comes to a close, the dancer says she is going to be sick. She ought to be.
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