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Stamboul Quest

Stamboul Quest(1934)

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Stamboul Quest (1934)

Myrna Loy goes undercover in Stamboul Quest (1934) as the real life German spy known as Fraulein Doktor. Though legendary during WWI, the exploits of Fraulein Doktor are largely forgotten by history, overshadowed by her more famous compatriot Mata Hari. But unlike Mata Hari, who Fraulein Doktor is often credited with exposing and sending to her death in front of a French firing squad, she herself was never caught. Thus, the details of her life, the facts about the woman behind the Fraulein Doktor persona, remain something of a mystery.

In Stamboul Quest, Loy's character is called Annemarie Lesser. This is the name most commonly associated with Fraulein Doktor (though some sources do refer to her as Elsbeth Schragmuller). She is said to have received a PhD. from the University of Friedburg and to have run a spy school in Antwerp during the German occupation of Belgium. She has been called the "greatest of the German female spies," but little is known about her actual operations. All records of Lesser were destroyed by German intelligence. Many accounts speak of her descent into cocaine and morphine addiction. And her last years were reportedly spent in an asylum. But again, her hospitalization under an assumed name makes any verification of her identity impossible.

In her autobiography Being and Becoming, Myrna Loy says that Fraulein Doktor was still alive when Stamboul Quest was filmed. "She'd become a drug addict, lost her mind and landed in a Swiss sanatorium," Loy remembers. Apparently MGM still believed in the Fraulein Doktor mystique as well. As Loy recalled, "[the] fear of libel kept the script in the air all the way through."

But they need not have worried. Where the facts were thin, Hollywood stepped in and supplied the intrigue. Stamboul Quest was the first of four films, based on the alleged adventures of Fraulein Doktor. Next came Mademoiselle Docteur (1936), a French movie directed by a German, G.W. Pabst, and starring another German, Dita Parlo. An English language version, with the slightly different, translated title of Mademoiselle Doctor was filmed simultaneously under the direction of Edmond T. Greville. It maintained the exact plot of the French film and kept Dita Parlo as Annemarie. But changes were made in the supporting cast between the two movies. The most notable of these differences was the addition of Erich von Stroheim as the German spy chief in the English film. Despite Parlo's starring role as the title character, von Stroheim received top billing over her in Mademoiselle Doctor because his face and name were more recognizable to English audiences. But luckily, this billing caused no ill will between the actors. Von Stroheim and Parlo would appear together again the very next year in what would become a cinematic masterpiece - Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion (1937). Both versions of Mademoiselle Docteur eventually made their way to America, with generic U.S. release titles. The French film was released as Street of Shadows, and the U.S. title of the English version became Under Secret Orders.

The final film about the infamous female agent was called simply Fraulein Doktor. An Italian-Yugoslavian co-production, this big budget feature was produced in 1969 and starred Suzy Kendall, Nigel Green and Capucine. But neither it nor any of the other "Fraulein Doktor" movies made much of an impact at the box office. Nor did they provide much insight into the woman named Annemarie Lesser. But they did help sustain the legend -- of a once feared, now forgotten spy called Fraulein Doktor.

Producer: Bernard H. Hyman, Sam Wood
Director: Sam Wood
Screenplay: Herman Mankiewicz, Leo Birinsky
Cinematography: James Wong Howe
Costume Design: Dolly Tree
Film Editing: Hugh Wynn
Principal Cast: Myrna Loy (Annemarie Lesser), George Brent (Beall), Lionel Atwill (Von Strum), C. Henry Gordon (Ali Bey), Rudolph Anders (Karl), Mischa Auer (Ameel Roberts), Leo G. Carroll (Agent Kruger).
BW-87m. Closed captioning.

by Stephanie Thames

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