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Spy Noirs, UK, from Reference Books



The table below has 24 UK spy noirs that are cited in at least one of the following reference books. These films were released during the classic period of spy noir.

John Grant, A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir: The Essential Reference Guide (Limelight Editions, 2013)

Michael F. Keaney, British Film Noir Guide (McFarland & Company, Inc., 2008)

Robert Murphy, “British Film Noir,” in Andrew Spicer, editor, European Film Noir (Manchester University Press, 2007)

Spencer Selby, The Worldwide Film Noir Tradition (Sink Press, 2013)

For each film I have cited the author(s) who identify it as a film noir.

The information in the table about each film’s director and cinematographer complements the page Noir Style: Natives – Not Émigrés.

The table provides additional evidence that film noir didn’t arise in Britain because of émigrés from France or Central Europe. With very few exceptions, the directors and cinematographers responsible for the development of UK film noir were were born in Britain; or, if they were born elsewhere, their film careers were substantially if not entirely in the UK.

Here are two examples that show how I cite information about the directors and cinematographers.

Mutz Greenbaum, aka Max Greene, (Germany; UK career: 1931)

Mutz Greenbaum was also known as (“aka”) Max Greene. He was born in Germany and his career in the UK began in 1931.

Edwin Hiller (Germany; UK career)

Edwin Hiller was born in Germany and his career was entirely in the UK.

When the literary source of a spy noir is a novel or a play, I only provide the title when it is different from the film’s title.

The information in the table about each film’s writer(s) shows how rarely a spy noir was adapted from an espionage novel (e.g., by Eric Ambler or Graham Greene). Instead, stage plays or novels not associated with espionage literature are more often the basis for spy noirs. Most frequently, spy noirs come from original screenplays or screenplays adapted from original, unpublished stories.

Therefore, contrary to the suggestions of James Naremore (Nothing More Than Night: Film Noir and Its Contexts) and Jon Tuska (Dark Cinema: American Film Noir in Cultural Perspective), spy noirs aren’t derived from spy novels. The table shows the independence of spy noirs from spy novels. For my critique of Naremore and Tuska, see the sections “Full Recognition of America’s Forgotten Ally” and “Postscript,” respectively, in the page Spy Noirs & the Origins of Film Noir.



Title & Source(s)





The Man Who Knew Too Much — Grant — Murphy Alfred Hitchcock (UK) Curt Courant (Germany; UK career: 1933) Charles Bennett & D.B. Wyndham-Lewis (screenplay); Edwin Greenwood & A.R. Rawlinson (scenario)


Sabotage — Grant — Murphy Alfred Hitchcock (UK) Bernard Knowles (UK) Charles Bennett (screenplay); Joseph Conrad (novel, The Secret Agent)


Dark Journey — Murphy  Victor Saville (UK) George Périnal (France; UK career: 1933) & Harry Strading (US) Lajos Biró (screenplay); Arthur Wimperis (scenario & dialogue)


Strange Boarders — Murphy Herbert Mason (UK) Jack E. Cox [uncredited] (UK) Sidney Gilliat & A.R. Rawlinson (screenplay); E. Phillips Oppenheim (novel, The Strange Boarders of Palace Crescent)


The Spy in Black — Keaney — Murphy Michael Powell (UK) Bernard Browne (UK) Emeric Pressburger (screenplay); J. Storer Clouston   (story)


Traitor Spy [The Torso Murder Mystery] — Keaney — Murphy Walter Summers (UK) Robert LaPresle (US; UK career: 1934) John Argyle, Jan van Lusil, Walter Summers & Ralph Gilbert Bettison (screenplay); Jacques Pendower (novel)


Contraband [Blackout] — Keaney — Murphy Michael Powell (UK) Freddie Young (UK) Emeric Pressburger (screenplay & story)


Three Silent Men — Keaney — Selby Thomas Bentley (UK) Geoffrey Faithful (UK) Jack Byrd & Dudley Leslie (screenplay); E.P. Thorne (novel)


Cottage to Let [Bombsight Stolen] — Keaney — Murphy Anthony Asquith (UK) Jack E. Cox (UK) Anatole de Grunwald & J.O.C. Orton (screenplay); Geoffrey Kerr (play)


Tower of Terror — Keaney — Murphy  Lawrence Huntington (UK) Walter J. Harvey (UK) John Argyle (screenplay); John Reinhardt (story)


The Next of Kin — Murphy Thorold Dickinson (UK) Ernest Palmer (UK) Basil Bartlett, Thorold Dickinson, John Dighton & Angus MacPhail (screenplay)


Uncensored — Keaney — Murphy Anthony Asquith (UK) Arthur Crabtree (UK) Rodney Ackland, Terrance Rattigan & Wolfgang Wilhelm (screenplay); Oscar Millard (novel)


Unpublished Story — Grant — Murphy Harold French (UK) Bernard Knowles (UK) Anatole de Grunwald, Patrick Kirwan & Leslie Storm (screenplay); Anthony Havelock-Allan & Allan MacKinnon (story)


Went the Day Well? — Murphy Alberto Cavalcanti (Brazil; UK career: 1933) Wilkie Cooper (UK) John Dighton, Angus MacPhail & Diana  Morgan (story & screenplay); Graham Greene (story)


Escape to Danger — Keaney — Murphy Lance Comfort (UK) Guy Green (UK) Jack Whittingham & Wolfgang Wilhelm (screenplay); Patrick Kirwan (story)


Squadron Leader X — Keaney — Murphy Lance Comfort (UK) Mutz Greenbaum, aka Max Greene (Germany; UK career: 1931) Miles Malleson & Wolfgang Wilhelm (screenplay); Emeric Pressburger (story, “Four Days in a Hero’s Life”)


They Met in the Dark — Grant — Murphy Karel Lamac (Czech Republic; UK career: 1939) Otto Heller (Czech Republic; UK career: 1940) Miles Malleson (screenplay);Anthony Gilbert (novel, The Vanished Corpse)


Yellow Canary — Keaney — Murphy Herbert Wilcox (UK) Mutz Greenbaum, aka Max Greene, (Germany; UK career: 1931) Miles Malleson & DeWitt Bodeen (screenplay)


Hotel Reserve — Grant — Keaney — Murphy Lance Comfort (UK), Mutz Greenbaum, aka Max Greene, (Germany; UK career: 1931) & Victor Hanbury (UK) Mutz Greenbaum [uncredited], aka Max Greene, (Germany; UK career: 1931) Eric Ambler (screenplay & novel, Epitaph for a Spy)


Great Day — Keaney — Murphy Lance Comfort (UK) Erwin Hiller (Germany; UK career) John Davenport, Lesley Story & Wolfgang Wilhelm (screenplay); Lesley Storm (play)


I See a Dark Stranger — Keaney Frank Launder (UK) Wilkie Cooper (UK) Frank Launder & Sidney Gilliat (screenplay)


Night Boat to Dublin — Murphy Lawrence Huntington (UK) Otto Heller (Czech Republic; UK career: 1940) Robert Hall & Lawrence Huntington (screenplay)



The source books include the following WWII-related spy noir that was released after my cutoff date of 1946.


Counterblast — Grant — Keaney — Selby Paul L. Stein (Austria; US, UK career: 1926) Moray Grant (UK) & James Wilson (UK) Jack Whittingham (screenplay); Guy Morgan (story)


Snowbound — Keaney David MacDonald (UK)  Stephen Dade (UK)  Keith Campebll & David Evans (screenplay); Hammond Innes (novel, The Lonely Skier)