A Little Bit of Melodrama

Meredith Johnson, Copy Editor

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I am a self-proclaimed history geek. In elementary school, I was the kid who spent her summer in front of the television watching the History Channel. I spent countless an afternoon with my dad watching whatever war movie and literally reading the encyclopedia. However, I have never really known a lot about the Spanish Civil War. It seems like a less popular event to transform into film, even though the gravity of the ideological fight is captivating. Guess what else is captivating? Yes. Charles Boyer is the right answer. In my previous blog titled, “Igniting my love of classic movies” I wrote about Boyer’s film, “Gaslight” with Ingrid Bergman. Both Bergman and Boyer starred in films concerning the civil war in Spain. Although Bergman’s role in the film adaption of Ernest Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” received better press and better reviews, Boyer’s performance in “Confidential Agent” was enthralling and highlighted an already spectacular film. “Confidential Agent” centers around a republican soldier turned agent, Luis Denard (played by Boyer) trying to purchase coal in Britain before the Fascist side can, all while battling PTSD. While trying to meet with the director of a coal mine, Boyer is subjected to animosity from the English locals and a violent Fascist opposition in Britain. This film is unique in a multitude of ways. Firstly, “Confidential Agent”, although fictional, is explicitly historical. I applaud the escape from the glitz of Hollywood to actually talk about the issues of the Spanish Civil War, like the dependence on foreign relations for supplies and the all too common traitors that would infiltrate both Fascist and Republican sides. The film even discusses the Union issues in Britain. In keeping with the history of the 1940s, the movie also delves into the reality of the widespread effects of war. Although the entire film is set in Britain, “Confidential Agent” demonstrates the fact that the Spanish Civil War was fought everywhere. Breaking from the typical, historical movie boundaries, “Confidential Agent” is also somewhat of a romantic comedy. With Lauren Bacall balancing the moody Boyer with her role as a self-centered socialite, there is certain lightness to some of the scenes, even though the intensity is palpable. In one scene, Bacall and Boyer are driving into London, when the tire of their car blows out. Boyer, suffering from shell shock, raises his hands over his eyes in terror, shaking slightly from fear. Bacall responds to this with, “You don’t have shell shock do you? If there’s anything I hate, it’s melodrama.” Overall, “Confidential Agent” is a fascinating film. However, it did not appear that way at the time. When the film came out in 1945, it received horrible press, partially because the film was marketed as a movie about WWII, not the Spanish Civil War. It was also predicted that the disaster of “Confidential Agent” would destroy Bacall’s career. This was only Bacall’s second feature film, and her place in Hollywood was still unsure. However, Bacall’s next role in the “Big Sleep” opposite her future husband Humphrey Bogart restored her career as the quintessential femme fatale. Despite its varying success, “Confidential Agent” is an original, thought-provoking film. Its complexities and uniqueness is truly stunning. I do hope you see it.