Performing Exile as an Undercover Agent: The Spy Films of Lilli Palmer

Phyllis Lassner*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Lilli Palmer’s personal and political status as a Jewish émigré informs her success as a stage and screen actress and later, as a novelist and painter. Like other Jewish émigrés to Britain and the United States, Palmer illustrates the creative opportuni-ties many experienced in voluntary exile or as refugees escaping Nazi persecution. This essay focuses on Palmer’s espionage roles that plunge her into political and narrative jeopardy. Whether her characters are written into British or American productions, or whether they are subject to Nazi or Soviet terror, they occupy a lim-inal position that generalizes the gendered import of her roles. At the end of each of her spy films, her characters wait for the dubious promises of romance to be fulfilled; they are sacrificed for the Allied cause, reactivating the self-determining choice that first drove her to espionage. Even as Lilli Palmer’s spy thriller roles and performances developed over the course of her career, they continued to echo the cultural and political displacement she experienced.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)160-185
Number of pages26
JournalJewish Film and New Media
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 1 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Communication
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Anthropology


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