Watching 1939: Espionage Agent (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film:  Espionage Agent (1939)

Release date:  Sept. 23, 1939

Cast:  Joel McCrea, Brenda Marshall, Jeffrey Lynn, George Bancroft, Stanley Ridges, James Stephenson, Nana Bryant, Martin Kosleck, Vera Lewis (uncredited), George Reeves (uncredited)

Studio:  Warner Bros.

Director:  Lloyd Bacon

Barry Corvall (McCrea) and Lowell Warrington (Lynn) work to identify government spies. Barry marries Brenda Ballard (Marshall) and soon realizes that Brenda is a spy. Barry and Brenda combine forces to battle the rising forces of Nazis.

1939 Notes:
• Brenda Marshall entered films in 1939 and this was her first credited film role and second film. Marshall’s first role was Blackwell’s Island (1939) as an uncredited secretary.
• Joel McCrea was in three films released in 1939.
• Jeffrey Lynn was in six films in 1939.
• James Stephenson was in 13 films released in 1939.

Other trivia: 
• Original working title was “Career Man”

Brenda Marshall, Joel McCrea and Jeffrey Lynn in “Espionage Agent.”

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
While the United States didn’t enter World War II until 1941, the possibility of war was bubbling several years before and ruptured on Sept. 1, 1939.

Few Hollywood films acknowledged the troubles in Europe as the United States remained neutral. But Warner Bros. chose not to hide from the conflict overseas.

“Espionage Agent” (1939) was released in theaters on Sept. 22, 1939, days after Poland was invaded by Germany. “Espionage Agent” was one of two films that Warner Bros. released that was distinctly anti-Nazi. The other was “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” (1939). Warner Bros. was groundbreaking in this respect, as other studios wanted to maintain their neutral status.

The film begins with Joel McCrea and Jeffrey Lynn working at the U.S. consulate in Tangier. McCrea and Lynn both return home to the United States and on the ship home, McCrea falls in love with Brenda Marshall. Little does he know that Marshall got a passport home by agreeing to become a spy against the U.S.

McCrea comes from a prominent family of diplomats, and his mother, played by Nana Bryant is not in favor of his marrying Brenda. Soon after the wedding, he learns she is a spy and the two decide to work together to expose Nazi agents.

Because of the neural American status, “Espionage Agent” is interesting because there is little question that the Nazis are the enemy in this film, though at this time they weren’t officially an enemy of the United States.

“Espionage Agent” is an exciting film and has an interesting subject matter for the time that it was released.

It is equally grand because you get both Joel McCrea and Jeffrey Lynn in one film together. Aside from their good looks (which is a major bonus), they both are wonderful in this movie. I will argue that Lynn is wasted in this movie and I feel like he could have used a bit more screentime.

The downside of this film is Brenda Marshall as a leading lady. In her first credited film role, she gives a weak performance. I can’t say that her acting improved later on, but it was better than it is here.

In the long list of 1939 films, “Espionage Agent” is overlooked. It’s Warner Bros. counterpart, “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” (1939) is also better known. However, in the history of World War II and the United States’ involvement, this is an interesting movie to view.

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