State Secret (1950 film)

State Secret is a 1950 British drama film directed by Sidney Gilliat and starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Jack Hawkins, Glynis Johns, Olga Lowe and Herbert Lom.[2] It was made at Isleworth Studios with Italian location shooting in Trento and the Dolomites. It was released in the United States under the title The Great Manhunt.[3]

State Secret
Directed bySidney Gilliat
Produced by
Written bySidney Gilliat
Based onnovel
by Roy Huggins
Music byWilliam Alwyn
CinematographyRobert Krasker
Distributed by
Release date
  • 11 September 1950 (1950-09-11)
  • 4 October 1950 (1950-10-04)
Running time
104 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office£187,022 (UK)[1]


John Marlowe (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) is an American surgeon visiting England when he is decoyed to Vosnia, a small European country speaking Esperanto. He finds that he is to operate on the Vosnian dictator. The dictator dies but is replaced by a look-alike. As one of the few who know, Marlowe is hunted by the country's secret police.

Marlowe flees and seeks the help of Lisa Robinson (Glynis Johns). They blackmail smuggler Karl Theodor Herbert Lom into helping them. They are pursued across the country and are on the point of escaping when Karl is shot and killed and Lisa is wounded. Marlowe could escape without her but stays.

Government minister (Minister of Health, Minister of Public Services and Minister for State Security) Colonel Galcon (Jack Hawkins) arranges a "shooting accident" for Marlowe but, as Marlowe walks outside to his fate, the false dictator is heard making a live speech on the radio. Shots are heard and Marlowe goes back inside the building. Galcon confirms by telephone that the stand-in has been assassinated.

Marlowe and Galcon discuss the situation and Galcon realises that it may be over for him. As the people have witnessed the death of the "dictator", it is no longer necessary to maintain the cover-up. Marlowe and Robinson are released and fly to freedom.




Gilliat got the idea for making the film from a newspaper article he read shortly before World War Two. He decided it would make a "chase thriller" in the style of films he had written for Alfred Hitchcock and Carol Reed, notably The Lady Vanishes and Night Train to Munich.[5]

A "Vosnian" language was constructed for the film by a linguistics expert, combining Latin and Slavic.[5]

The star role went to Douglas Fairbanks Jnr, who had made a number of British films in the 1930s and was keen to work in the country again. His casting was announced in May 1949.[6]

Fairbanks later said "We have definitely reached a One World status in pictures. British comedy and character acting do not seem remote to us any more."[7]

In July it was announced that another Hollywood star would play the female lead but by August British actor Glynis Johns got the role.[8][9]


Filming began in August 1949. Although there was some filming done at Isleworth Studios in London, Gilliat wanted to make as much of the film on location. There was eight weeks on location filming, in Trento and the Dolomites. Trento stood in for the fictitious capital. Filming finished by November 1949.[10][11]

Fairbanks later said filming was difficult as some in Italy thought the film was anti-communist while others said it was pro-communist, and the film unit had to avoid riots.[12]


Critical reception

In The New York Times, Bosley Crowther wrote, "... this picture is just about as lively as they come, and under Mr. Gilliat's direction, it moves like an auto gaining speed ... Beautifully photographed in Italian cities and in the Italian Dolomites, the whole adventure has the eminent advantage of a sparkling Continental atmosphere. And it also has the advantage of good performance by all concerned—by Mr. Fairbanks as the kidnapped surgeon, looking a little like Eugene O'Neill; by Miss Johns, very saucy and explosive, as the music-hall girl; by Jack Hawkins as the Vosnian premier [sic], with an Oxford accent and a Nazi attitude; by Herbert Lom as the Balkan shyster and any number of others in small roles."[13]

Box office

Trade papers called the film a "notable box office attraction" in British cinemas in 1950.[14] It was one of five successful movies from London Films that year, the others being The Wooden Horse, The Happiest Days of Your Life, Odette and Seven Days to Noon.[15]

State Secret was less popular in the US but Fairbanks Jr. said "I thought I did my best work ever; Sidney really kept the pot boiling."[7]


  1. Porter, Vincent. "The Robert Clark Account". Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol. 20, No. 4, 2000, p. 492.
  2. "Review: 'State Secret'." BFI. Retrieved: 23 July 2016.
  3. "The Great Manhunt." TV Guide. Retrieved: 23 July 2016.
  4. "Nelly Arno." BFI. Retrieved: 23 July 2016.
  5. FILM IN THE MAKING: "State Secret" Enley, Frank. Sight and Sound; London Vol. 18, Iss. 71, (Fall 1949): 10.
  6. BY WAY OF REPORT By A. H. WEILER. New York Times 8 May 1949: X5.
  7. Bawden and Miller 2016, p. 104, at Google Books
  8. AMERICAN INFLUENCE CHANGING BRITISH FILMS: Native Character Losing Out on Screen Due to Influx of Hollywood Artists By C. A. LEJEUNE New York Times 19 June 1949: X5.
  9. Of Local Origin New York Times 20 Aug 1949: 7.
  10. Paulette Goddard May Do 'Cynthia;' Erskine Plans Independent Film Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 2 Nov 1949: A7
  11. Round the British Studios Nepean, Edith. Picture Show; London Vol. 53, Iss. 1391, (Nov 26, 1949): 11.
  12. Schallert, Edwin (4 February 1951). "All World's A Stage' for Doug's Activities: International Swapping of Talent Aids Films, Says Peripatetic Star". Los Angeles Times. p. D3.
  13. Crowther, Bosley. "Movie Review: The Great Manhunt, The screen in review; 'State Secret,' Thrilling 'Chase' film with Douglas Fairbanks Jr., bows at Victoria." The New York Times, 5 October 1950. Retrieved: 23 July 2016.
  14. Murphy 2003, p. 212 at Google Books
  15. Watts, Stephen. "London Status quo: Production Remains Subject of Optimism And Gloom..." New York Times, 22 October 1950: X5.


  • Bawden, James and Ron Miller. Conversations with Classic Film Stars: Interviews from Hollywood's Golden Era. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2016. ISBN 978-0-8131-6710-7.
  • Murphy, Robert. Realism and Tinsel: Cinema and Society in Britain 1939-48. London: Routledge, 2003, First edition 1992. ISBN 978-0-4150-7684-5.
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