Saoirse Ronan is raised by her rogue-spy dad (Eric “Hulk” Bana) in the woods with emphasis on survivalism and attack skills – specifically the skills to attack Cate Blanchett, who killed Ronan’s mom. Was she Ronan’s mom, or was Ronan genetically engineered to be a supersoldier in a lab somewhere? Not important. What’s important is Joe Wright has remade himself as a slick-ass music video director and filled the movie with pumping Chemical Brothers music to distract our minds from the implausibility of the story. Even the implausibility of each individual scene – for example, the one where Hanna is in a manhole, army trucks are driving over her without slowing down then suddenly she’s hanging from one Cape Fear-style, when it seems like the move required to get her into that position in a split second would’ve ripped her arms off. Oh, and she’s never seen electricity before, but sits right down at a computer and within 15 seconds she’s reading up on her mom’s death from google news. In many respects, Attack the Block was the more realistic movie.

Rushmore‘s Olivia Williams plays the hippie mom of Jessica Barden, who steals the show for a while as Hanna’s first friend. But apparently Hanna’s superspy dad never emphasized secrecy, because Hanna tells the kids where she’s supposed to meet her dad, ultimately getting him killed. The movie is just as violent as PG-13 will allow, so he’s killed offscreen, and we never see what happens to the Olivia Williams Family after their interrogation by rogue spies.

Katy didn’t watch the whole thing but rightly points out that the more interesting movie would’ve been about what happens after Hanna has killed Cate Blanchett. A girl with no friends or family, few social graces, no sense of empathy and mad fighting skills who is probably still being hunted by the government – what now?

“What a charming evening we might have had if you hadn’t been a spy, and I a traitor.”
“Then we might never have met.”

Another Sternberg/Dietrich movie, and this one just kills The Blue Angel, which I thought was overbaked and had too little Dietrich. Here not only is she perfectly lit and doing a better acting job throughout, but the story is a wartime (1915 Austria) spy vs. spy drama, all romance and excitement, more alive and relevant than the period self-punishment of Emil Jannings. Sternberg seems fully comfortable in his sound world now, maybe not pulling as beautiful images as in the silents, when it was all image, but making a movie that fully works. Some good expressive lighting (backlit against windows when she lets Victor escape) and long-held cross-fades.

Marlene with Austrian secret service man Gustav von Seyffertitz (Hymn Book Harry, who performs the wedding in Docks of New York):

The opening titles prepare us for tragedy and sexism, telling us that codename X-27 “might have become the greatest spy in history… if X-27 had not been a woman.” This is referring to the ending, when she lets the enemy spy she loves escape before his execution, which leads to her own. But of course the reason she’s a great spy in the first place is that she’s a woman, able to seduce and sleep with (whoa, pre-code) enemy officers in order to steal information, the Black Book of its time.

At the start, war widow Marlene is out streetwalking to pay the rent (whoa, pre-code!) when she picks up a gentleman with a droopy ‘stache who tests her patriotism, pretending to try recruiting her for anti-Austrian work, and when she has him arrested he reveals that he’s the head of Austrian secret service and actually wants to hire her for pro-Austrian work, argh.

Warner “Charlie Chan” Oland as the spy who shoots himself:

Some veils, feathers and masks later, she’s at a party with more confetti and streamers than I’ve ever seen in one place. She acts interested in Russian Mustache Spy and retires back to his place, where she discovers his secret spy stash, all the while acting super-fucking-cool while he creeps away and kills himself.

The colonel is Victor McLaglen, Lon’s strongman sidekick in The Unholy Three who’d win best actor for The Informer a few years later:

With a distinctive smile like Victor’s, what use is a mask?

Off to unveil the secret identity of the dead spy’s undercover colonel friend from the costume party, which is simple since he has the most excellently recognizable sinister smile. And a cute little mustache – every man has a mustache.

The colonel is onto her spying ways – she’s got him, then lets him escape. She goes to Russia and acts as a timid housekeeper at enemy headquarters, then back home where she sees the grinning colonel again and lets him escapes. Sentenced to death, she asks only for a piano and “any dress I wore when I served my countrymen instead of my country,” so gets killed by rifle squad in her feathers and veil.

Pre-execution, at her piano:

60’s-style cool in a cinemascope stripe, more Seijun Suzuki than Red Angel. The upstart Tiger motor company tries to release a new sports car but the larger Yamoto company is trying to steal their ideas and sabotage their success. Asahina is a young Tiger engineer expected to become department head after the new car’s launch, but after going along with his bosses in the spy game – including selling out his girl to get trade secrets – he walks out at the end, saying Tiger has become as dirty as their competitors.

A test car crashes dramatically. Asahina’s girl Masako works at a bar, tries to get the competitors to talk. Tiger employees attempt to sell fake designs to Yamoto, but Yamoto has already stolen the real plans. A designer is kidnapped. A triple-crossing reporter gets payment from all sides. A board meeting is filmed through the window and a lip-reader employed to translate. A collector buys the first car off the line, rigs its destruction on train tracks and says the car was a lemon, drawing big publicity. The Tiger employee responsible for the leaks is discovered and kills himself. It’s all pretty action-packed for a movie populated by motor engineers.

The IMDB only feels like listing a few of the actors. Our moral hero was Jiro Tamiya, who costarred in a popular series of films known as Bad Reputation or Tough Guy. His girl was Junko Kano – didn’t act for long, not in anything else I’ve heard of. Bald Tiger unit boss Onada was Hideo Takamatsu of A Wife Confesses. Hiraki, fresh-faced son-in-law of the hospitalized company head, was Eiji Funakoshi, star of Fires on the Plain and Blind Beast.

AV Club:

Throughout his career, Masumura displayed a flair for the ludicrous, and frequently skewered his countrymen’s Westernizing pretensions by mocking the ways in which the new religion of business was costing them their souls. Black Test Car is largely effective because Masumura plays the story relatively straight. Shooting in stark black and white, in crowded rooms framed at cramped angles, Masumura keeps the mood tense and coaxes performances that are earnest without becoming campy. The boardroom chatter—along the lines of, “People want speed and luxury!”—coupled with the fast-paced editing make Black Test Car play like a darkly sophisticated live-action episode of Speed Racer.