Leo (Carl Schell) attempts to break into the British Embassy. He claims to be a refugee and pleads for political asylum. The ambassador, Arnold Morely (Ronald Howard), listens sympathetically to his tale and agrees he can stay for a while.
But Leo is a spy for “the other side” and after aquiring some secrets he makes his escape. He doesn’t go empty handed though, as he takes a hostage, the ambassador’s ten-year old daughter Kit (Loretta Parry), with him …..
The Light of a Friendly Star has a slightly odd tone. From the first time Kit sets eyes on Leo, she’s very taken with him – telling her father that his (made up) story of persecution is tragic and also that his dark, dark eyes (“darker than Heathcliff, darker than Captain Ahab”) are very compelling. This initial speech demonstrates that Kit is a most precocious child, but her infatuation would have worked better if she had been older, say in her late teens.
Is Stockholm Syndrome at play here? Kit could have escaped from him on several occasions, but didn’t. Instead she uses manipulation (sabotaging his car, mentioning that if she was picked up by the police she’d have to tell them all she knew) to make him realise she’ll be less of a danger if he takes her along.
Her father doesn’t seem terribly surprised to learn that Kit may have been kidnapped and confides to one of his aides, Wilson (Donald Pickering), that Leo may have been forced to take her. He doesn’t elaborate, but we’ve already had numerous examples of how strong-willed the girl is.
Kit later sadly confides to Leo that she’s over educated, the inference being that emotionally she’s a woman trapped in a girl’s body. But she still has childish traits, telling Leo that she knows he won’t hurt her because of his eyes. “I think anyway one’s eyes are really what one is”.
Poor Leo never really stands a chance, as the hapless spy finds Kit running rings around him. And when we later learn that the secrets he obtained were out of date and therefore worthless, it makes his efforts seem all the more futile. Incidentally, the British Embassy seems to be the sort of place where guests can wander about at night, unchallenged, and go where they wish. Have they never heard of security?
It could be that the story was attempting a Hayley Mills/Tiger Bay vibe, but there’s only one Hayley Mills and Loretta Parry’s performance does begin to grate after a while. This could be intentional though – she’s not supposed to be a victim in Leo’s power, if anything Kit’s the one in control ….
If there’s a point to the story, then it seems to come when the mismatched pair are forced to shelter from the rain in a barn. Kit asks him why he spies and he tells her that it’s an honest profession which appeals to him. He begins to open up a little and mentions that he has no family, they were killed by a bomb years ago. The incidental music swells in sympathy and Kit places her hand on his arm. It’s a nice touch that as soon as he shrugs her off the music stops.
Leo seems to be a totally isolated figure, although Kit senses this is nothing more than a fraud. She tells him that he could love someone if he wanted – even her. Again, this is a strange conversation for a ten-year old girl to be having with a grown man.
Carl Schell gives a self-contained performance as Leo, the man with friendly eyes. The supporting cast is characteristically strong, with Ronald Howard (a former Sherlock Holmes) providing a reassuring presence. The likes of Donald Pickering and George Pravda are always worth watching even if, as here, they only have small roles.
Largely a two-hander, The Light of a Friendly Star does have a few interesting points to make about espionage. Leo sees himself as a professional spy – with no national alligence – which is confirmed when it’s revealed he used to spy for the British, leaving Wilson to dismiss him as someone who’ll work for the highest bidder. Is this a purer, more honourable form of spying than if it’s done in the national interest? Leo seems to think so, but as a professional dissembler can we ever trust anything he says?