Confidential Agent (1945) was a curiosity of casting that Warner Bros deemed appropriate at the time. Their hot new property, 20-yr-old Lauren Bacall, was riding high on the accolades for her first film, "To Have and Have Not." She had also completed the yet-to-be-released "The Big Sleep", both costarring her future husband Humphrey Bogart.
When Boyer was chosen to play the weary anti-fascist of Graham Greene's novel, Warners was in a big rush to try Bacall opposite another major male star. This turned out to be a miscalculation, an almost fatal one for the budding career of Ms. Bacall. She was clearly out of her element as the young "Englishwoman", and no one knew it better than she. The critics who had fallen all over themselves in praise of her first movie did a quite vicious about-face. Bacall would later say, "They chopped me to pieces and I hated them all, but they were right...I had no guidance whatever in "Confidential Agent." "
That guidance should have come from director Herman Shumlin; "Agent" was his second and last film and he departed Hollywood having "showed little evidence that he'd learned anything about the medium" (Pauline Kael).
The story follows Boyer's character, a special agent in the Spanish Civil War, as he attempts to complete his secret mission in England. He meets up with one shady character after another (some very imposing character actors here: Peter Lorre, Victor Francen, Katina Paxinou, George Coulouris), and is harassed from the moment he steps off the boat. He's beaten up several times, shot at more than once, and robbed -- most of which happens before he even reaches his hotel room! And it's practically all downhill for him after that, until the rocky happy ending.
If anything, this film proves that it was impossible for Charles Boyer to give a bad performance; his disillusioned agent is the only constant that holds this murky melodrama somewhat together.
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