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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

The Spy in Black aka L'Espion noir [Blu-ray]


(, 1939)



Review by Gary Tooze



Theatrical: London Film Productions

Video: Elephant Films



Region: FREE! (as verified by the Oppo Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:18:36.040

Disc Size: 16,729,858,871 bytes

Feature Size: 15,479,771,136 bytes

Video Bitrate: 22.99 Mbps

Chapters: 12

Case: Standard Blu-ray case inside cardboard slipcase

Release date: February 4th, 2014



Aspect ratio: 1.33:1

Resolution: 1080i / 25 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video



DTS-HD Master Audio English 1830 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1830 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)



French, none



• Introduction by Jean-Pierre Dionnet (11:07)

4 Trailers






Description: The Spy In Black is the story of a German World War I submarine captain (Conrad Veidt) who is given a mission to discover British intelligence secrets. Once he arrives in the Orkney Islands, he meets up with a female schoolteacher (Valerie Hobson), who happens to be a German agent. Veidt falls in love with Hobson before discovering she's actually a double agent for the British. In America, Spy in Black was originally released under the title U-Boat 29.



The Film:

Darkness, foreboding and regret, rather than any sense of propaganda, dominate this extraordinarily atmospheric World War I spy story made on the eve of World War II. It signals the end of a peacetime era even more clearly than The Lady Vanishes. Daringly, the audience is asked to sympathise with the 'enemy' as the magnificent, shadowy Veidt moves through remarkable Scottish sets on a mission to Scapa Flow to destroy the British fleet. Intrigue, uncertainty and confused loyalties build to a bitter, ironic climax, and along the way Powell effortlessly produces more memorable shots and scenes than can be found in a dozen contemporary films.

Excerpt from TimeOut located HERE

This offbeat 1939 British B film was the first collaboration of director Michael Powell and writer Emeric Pressburger, whose partnership would continue through the 50s (The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus). Most of the Powell-Pressburger perversity is already in place in this story of a German spy ring at work in England, told entirely from the villains' point of view. The film is dark and beautifully textured, though not as visually rich as the later, higher-budgeted Powell pictures.

Excerpt from Dave Kehr at the Chicago Reader located HERE

Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

Powell and Pressburger's The Spy in Black arrives on Blu-ray from Elephant Films in France. Despite a couple of technical transfer weaknesses the BFI restoration looks very good. This is only single-layered and rendered in 1080i and appears to be the PAL running time of the film. I found the presentation to be somewhat inconsistent (light damage marks and scratches) but remembering the age of the film - it wasn't too offensive. Certain scenes and close-ups look magnificent and the film's contrast improves as it rolls along. There is some pleasing textured grain. This Blu-ray gave me a reasonable HD presentation.  I had never seen this before and was very happy that this was the manner I was able to view it. Very cool!





















Audio :

Audio is transferred in a DTS-HD Master 2.0 channel at 1830 kbps. It sounds quite good - with allowances for the age of the production. What is excellent is the Miklós Rózsa (The Lost Weekend, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, Double Indemnity) score. Rich and evocative with minor depth exported. There are optional French subtitles, which it defaults to (removable via your remote - not a menu option.) Another binues my Oppo has identified it as being a region FREE disc playable on Blu-ray machines worldwide.


Extras :

Elephant Films include an 11-minute introduction by Jean-Pierre Dionnet - solely in French with no subtitles and four advert trailers for further productions from them. The package also contains a PAL DVD of the film (also from the restoration.)



What a pleasant surprise I quite enjoyed The Spy in Black - it shows a lot of Powell and Pressburger in the style and story. I thought of Hitchcock, as well. Valerie Hobson + Conrad Veidt are excellent. This Blu-ray isn't perfect but the restoration itself is impressive, regardless. P+P completists should indulge. I'm really glad I took a chance on it! 

Gary Tooze

March 5th, 2014


About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 5000 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction.

Gary's Home Theatre:

60-Inch Class (59.58” Diagonal) 1080p Pioneer KURO Plasma Flat Panel HDTV PDP6020-FD

Oppo Digital BDP-83 Universal Region FREE Blu-ray/SACD Player
Momitsu - BDP-899 Region FREE Blu-ray player
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Tannoy DC6-T (fronts) + Energy (centre, rear, subwoofer) speakers (5.1)

APC AV 1.5 kVA H Type Power Conditioner 120V

Gary W. Tooze






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