Harold French's French Mission
Back in the 1940s there were various propaganda movies made and "Secret Mission" is one of them but it appears slightly different to the norm. Whilst it features a story about a small group of men on an undercover mission in France working with the brave French who secretly work against the Germans it has a different tone to it. Whether at the time this was intentional or not it means that "Secret Mission" has an almost jokey feel about it as it portrays the Germans as idiots who are easily fooled. It sort of works and makes you smile but when it comes to being a moral boosting propaganda movie it doesn't click.
Major Peter Garnett (Hugh Williams) leads a small group of me including French freedom fighter Raoul de Carnot (James Mason - North Sea Hijack) on a secret mission to France to obtain intelligence. Hiding out in the Carnot family Chateau where his sister Michelle (Carla Lehmann - Cottage to Let) still lives this group have several close shaves with the enemy whilst Private Nobby Clark (Michael Wilding) has a close shave with his French wife Lulu (Betty Warren) who runs a cafe in the nearby town. But these close shaves lead to personal issues as sacrifices are required in order to make it a successful mission.
To be totally blunt the storyline to "Secret Mission" is slim with it really just being about 4 men risking their lives in enemy filled France. It goes through several routine elements as they have close shaves with troops, have to creep about and masquerade as the enemy to get what they are after. And of course this after what seems a bit of meandering leads to their attempted escape back to Britain. It certainly is routine and as such is sadly quite forgettable and not that much of a moral booster.
But I do wonder whether that was the intention because as propaganda movies go "Secret Mission" seems to have a lot more humour about it starting with Private Nobby Clark reluctantly agreeing to go on the mission because he fears seeing his French wife again. It is a scene definitely played for laughs as are all the scenes which feature Nobby with Michael Wilding playing him as a Cockney wide boy. But there is a lot more humour especially with the focus being on making the Germans out to be a bunch of buffoons who are tricked by Garnett and Captain Red Gowan as they infiltrate German Headquarters. As such it is amusing especially with everyone being an over the top stereotype especially James Mason as Raoul de Carnot but it still isn't really moral boosting.
The thing is that if "Secret Mission" wasn't intentionally made to amuse audiences then it is one big mess and that means the characters and performances are wrong. Takes Mason as Raoul de Carnot, if he isn't meant to be playing him as a French caricature then this marks one of Mason's worst movies. The same with Roland Culver who plays Captain Gowan because as an easy going army man he is completely wrong yet if he is meant to be funny with his laid back British ness then it works.
What this all boils down to is that if taken seriously "Secret Mission" doesn't work and is neither memorable or moral boosting. But taken as a light hearted jab at the Germans it is mildly good fun with over the top characters and comical situation making you laugh.