Dick Barton: Special Agent (1948)

The occasionally funny but dated first film in Hammer Film's Dick Barton spy trilogy. DD-Video R2 DVD from the Dick Barton boxset.

The Film

British Special Agent Dick Barton (Don Stannard) is sent to the coastal town of Echo Bay where a smuggling ring originating in Germany is attracting the attention of the Home Office. Barton soon discovers that someone is smuggling mysterious metal objects into the country inside lobsters and he begins to uncover a complex conspiracy of fishermen and ex-Nazi officers involved in a deadly plot. With help from his pals, and a young fan, he has to avoid the smuggler's frequent attempts to kill him and save Britain...

Based on a very popular radio show of the time, Dick Barton: Special Agent opens with the distinctive BBC announcer's voice, and the Devil's Gallop theme tune. Although originally intended for mature audiences, the show had become most popular with children, with audience figures exceeding even the dedicated children's shows; the film reflects this with plenty of family-safe phsyical comedy - straight out of the books of the Ealing Comedy or early Carry-On films - and even a young side-kick, obsessed with the Dick Barton comics, straight out of the world of Just William. The story pans out like one of the 1942 Basil Rathbone/Sherlock Holmes pictures, with the bad guys revealed from the start, although their plans kept secret. Relatively slow paced and cliché (the smart bad guys have a dozen incompetent croonies) with a predictable ending, the storyline offers few surprises.

It is the direction that really dates
Dick Barton: Special Agent, director Alfred Goulding had directed comedy duo Laurel and Hardy in A Chump at Oxford (1940) but mostly directed shorts in Hollywood. His style here (probably limited by the film's low budget) is very basic, no moving cameras, no long takes, just a lot of talking heads - the fights scenes look far too comic and there is some very obvious speeded up footage near the end in a truck. Only a sequence shot in shadow shows any real talent but it is all to brief. In true Hammer style, the low budget doesn't stop the set design looking pretty good, although budget obviously didn't stretch to a soundtrack and most of the scenes play out in silence, to their detriment.


There are no big name actors on the cast list, Don Stannard as Dick Barton looks good and has the physical stature to match his role, while Geoffrey Wincott as the villianous Dr. Casper looks fittingly evil - the rest of the cast are average at best.

Dick Barton: Special Agent is an enjoyable film if you know what to expect - this low budget 1940s spy film doesn't contain impressive direction, stunning action scenes or even clever plot twists, but it does contain some nice sets and some funny physical comedy from a bygone era that is still enjoyable for fans.

In Brief

Anyone famous in it? Don Stannard - the dashing star of all three of Hammer's Dick Barton films.
Directed by anyone interesting? Alfred Goulding - a former Hollywood director who shot Laurel and Hardy film A Chump at Oxford (1940).
Any violence/gore? Some comedy style-fist fights, nothing more.
Any sex? None.
Who is it for?
Only really for fans of the 1940s style of physical comedy films.
Good soundtrack? A very limited score, with the distinctive opening score of the radio show.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.33:1 fullscreen. Black and White.
The print quality is good for the most part with some speckles but lots of detail even in the night-time scenes. Occasional scenes have very heavy marks on the print but only brief, and the film is never unwatchable.
Audio English language original mono sound. Clear for the most part, but occasionally muffled.
Subtitles None.
Run-timeFeature: 1hr 06m 30s (PAL)
Extras None on the disc, see boxset for more.
AvailabilityOnly avaliable in the Dick Barton Trilogy boxset.
Region Region 2 (Uk, Europe) - PAL
Other regions? None known.
Cuts? None known.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 11th July 2006.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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