Swedish theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Sam Wood|
Jack Conway (uncredited)
|Produced by||Bernard H. Hyman|
|Screenplay by||Herman J. Mankiewicz|
Richard Schayer (uncredited)
|Story by||Leo Birinski|
|Music by||William Axt (uncredited)|
|Cinematography||James Wong Howe|
|Edited by||Hugh Wynn|
Stamboul Quest is a 1934 American spy film set in World War I, directed by Sam Wood, starring Myrna Loy and George Brent and featuring Lionel Atwill. The screenplay was written by Herman J. Mankiewicz from a story by Leo Birinski.
In 1915 Berlin, the German high command is worried about ally Turkey. Recent British attacks on the vital Dardanelles shows signs of inside knowledge. Von Sturm (Lionel Atwill), the head of German intelligence, is ordered to find out if Ali Bey (C. Henry Gordon), the Turkish commander of the region, is the traitor.
As his best agent has not been heard from in several weeks, von Sturm assigns Kruger (Leo G. Carroll) the task. Shortly afterwards, Annemarie (Myrna Loy), known by the code name "Fräulein Doktor", returns after completing her mission. She also informs von Sturm that fellow spy Mata Hari has fallen in love and therefore can no longer be trusted. She recommends that an incriminating message be sent using a code that she knows has been broken by the Allies. In addition, she uncovers Kruger as a British double agent known as K-6.
When Kruger is arrested at his dentist contact's office, another patient, American medical student Douglas Beall (George Brent), is also taken into custody, though he is later released. Just to be sure though, von Sturm orders Annemarie to make sure Beall is innocent. She arranges to be rescued from an unwanted "suitor" by Beall, who invites her to his hotel suite. During the course of the evening, he confesses he has fallen in love with her, now going by the name Helena Bohlen. Helena is attracted to him, but when she reads a coded message from von Sturm informing her that he has taken her advice regarding Mata Hari, she abruptly leaves.
Beall persists however. When Helena boards the train to Constantinople, he follows her on the spur of the moment and continues courting her, despite her half-hearted attempts to discourage him. Her assistant Karl (Rudolph Amendt) watches with growing concern. As they near the Turkish border, she orders Karl to return to Germany so Beall can use his visa.
To answer Beall's persistent questions, Helena has to admit she is a German spy. This has no effect on his love. Meanwhile, she attracts Ali Bey with her beauty. When she accepts his invitation to dinner, she poses as British agent K-6 and negotiates for vital information. To gain his trust, she arranges for Beall to be framed as a spy by von Sturm (who has arrived after becoming concerned by Karl's reports) and supposedly executed by firing squad, though a French prisoner is to be substituted. His suspicions (and jealousy) allayed, Ali Bey compromises himself and is arrested by his Turkish superiors.
When von Sturm admits that he was unable to make the switch and that Beall really was shot, Helena loses her sanity and is confined in a nunnery. Refusing to accept the truth, she expects her lover to find her and take her away. It turns out that von Sturm had lied in an attempt to avoid losing his best agent. He had not dared to risk antagonizing a then-neutral America. In the final scene, Helena is reunited with Beall.
The story in Stamboul Quest is based on an actual person, a German-trained spy in World War I named Annamarie Lesser – as in this film – or possibly Elsbeth Schragmüller who used the code name "Fräulein Doktor" – probably referring to the PhD she held from the University of Freiburg – and who ran a training school for espionage agents in Antwerp, Belgium during the German occupation of the city. According to Myrna Loy's autobiography, the studio was particularly careful about how the script portrayed Fräulein Doktor, since at the time the film was made she was still alive, and a drug addict, living in a sanatorium in Switzerland, and they were concerned about being sued for libel. Although the exploits of Fräulein Doktor are not well known, and have been overshadowed by those of Mata Hari, it was possibly Fräulein Doktor who exposed Mata Hari, resulting in the latter facing a French firing squad for espionage. Fräulein Doktor herself was never caught.