On Secret Service

On Secret Service is a 1933 British thriller film directed by Arthur B. Woods and starring Greta Nissen, Karl Ludwig Diehl, Don Alvarado and Austin Trevor.[1] It was produced by British International Pictures.[2] It is based on the 1933 German film Spies at Work.[3]

On Secret Service
American poster
Directed byArthur B. Woods
Produced byJohn Maxwell
Walter C. Mycroft
Written byFrank Vosper and Arthur B. Woods after the film Spies at Work written by Georg C. Klaren, Herbert Juttke and Max W. Kimmich
StarringKarl Ludwig Diehl
Greta Nissen
Music byGiuseppe Becce
Kurt Schröder
CinematographyCyril Bristow
Jack Parker
Edited byEdward B. Jarvis
Distributed byWardour Films
Release date
15 December 1933
Running time
89 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

It was shot at Elstree Studios with sets designed by the art director Duncan Sutherland.

Plot summary

In 1912, the Austrian secret service identifies Marcella Galdi, an Italian noblewoman who is visiting Vienna, as an Italian spy. To avoid diplomatic confusions, she is kidnapped while dancing with the Austrian General Staff officer Michael von Hombergk at a ball at the famous hotel Sacher in Vienna, and sent back to Italy. Shortly afterwards, a secret plan of an Austrian fortress appears in Hombergks office desk, and as he himself is unable to explain this, the secret service urges him to commit suicide, but instead he manages to escape from Vienna.

Three years later, Italy and Austria stand against each other in World War I. Von Hombergk has returned to Vienna and asks the secret service for a chance to clean his name from the suspicion of being a spy and a traitor. At least, he is given an Italian uniform and flies to Italy to look for the traitor who put the plans in his office desk three years ago. When landing in Italy, he gets wounded as Italian artillery fires at him, but manages to get out of danger before falling unconscious. When he reaches consciousness again, he is in a military hospital. Here he re-meets Marcella, who is looking for enemy agents and is really shocked when recognising him. As she is in love with him, she offers him the chance to leave Italy as a free man. But to his disappointment she is unwilling to tell him the name of the agent who threw suspicion on his name.

Therefore, Hombergk stays in Italy and sets off to Rome as soon as he has got well again. He wants to talk to an antique dealer called Da Villa there who is a faithful Austrian agent. Among Da Villa's regular customers is also Count Valenti, who is well known as a collector of valuable pictures. At this journey Hombergk meets a dubios Mr Bluenzli, whom he does not consider to be trustworthy. Once he had arrived in Rome, he easily discovers that the traitor he is looking for acts under the code name of K 77. At a meeting with Da Villa, he gets connections to Coronello Ramenelli, chief of the Italian counter-intelligence, who is Marcella Galdi's boss and also a friend of Count Valenti. At a dinner party at Ramenellis villa, she and Hombergk re-meet again, and again she does not tell him on. They even spend the night together, but even now Marcella is unwilling to discover him the name of the man who threw suspicion on him. Suddenly Ramenelli appears on the scene. Marcella manages to hide Hombergk, but she cannot avoid him from overhearing that K 77 will arrive soon from Vienna. For her boss does not know the man personally, he orders Marcella to introduce them to each other at a party at Count Valenti's. Hombergk manages to get back to his hotel room without being discovered. When he arrives there, Bluenzli, the man he met on the train to Rome, is waiting for him and tries to blackmail him with the information he has collected about the affair. In a long discussion, Hombergk finally convinces him to work for the Austrian side instead.

Wíth Bluenzlis help, Hombergk arranges to fly the machine which will get K 77, who has turned out to be a high-ranking Austrian General Staff officer of Italian origin, back to Austria himself. When Marcella gets wind of his plans, she tries to stop him, but is shot dead by Bluenzli shortly before the plane takes off. While Bluenzli is arrested, Hombergk takes off and – after a risky flight – hands over the traitor to the Austrian authorities. Even though he is re-established now, he cannot forget the loving woman he has lost yet and therefore reports for military service.


actor role
Karl Ludwig Diehl Captain von Hombergk
Greta Nissen Marchesa Marcella
Don Alvarado Count Valenti
Lester Matthews Coronello Ramenelli
Esmé Percy Bluentzli
C. M. Hallard Waldmüller
Austin Trevor adjutant Larco
Cecil Ramage Da Villa
Wallace Geoffrey B 18

Additional information

The film was first shown to the public on 15 December 1933 in London cinemas. It was a remake of the German movie Spies at Work which had had its debut nine months earlier in Berlin. There was also an American version, this one entitled Secret agent, alternating Spy 77. In the USA, the film had its debut on 9 February 1936. By this time, the German original had been banned from the screens again by film checkers of the propaganda ministry.


  1. "On Secret Service (1933)". IMDb.com. Retrieved 14 December 2016.
  2. "On Secret Service (1934)". BFI.
  3. "Collections Search - BFI - British Film Institute". collections-search.bfi.org.uk.


  • Klaus, Ulrich J: German soundfilms. Encyclopedia of full-length German-speaking films (1929–1945), Vol. 4 (1933) – Berlin [et al.] : 1933.
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