Elsa Lanchester made her name as a comedienne and chantreuse in revue and cabaret in 1920s London, as well as an actress in the straight theatre and films. Such was her fame that H. G. Wells wrote three silent film ‘shorts’ especially for her, all made in 1928. It was around that time that she met and married Charles Laughton, whose own stage career was rocketing skyward. Hollywood soon beckoned and although Laughton was to become an international film star, Elsa found herself taking something of a back seat. She did play some excellent parts in early 1930s movies, such as Anne of Cleves in ‘The Private Life of Henry VIII’ with Laughton winning the Oscar for the title role, and she is still remembered even today as ‘The Bride of Frankenstein’ (1935). Her later films included an Oscar-nominated supporting role in ‘Witness for the Prosecution’ (1957) which again starred Charles Laughton.
The one Hollywood film in which she received top billing was a B-picture called ‘Passport to Destiny,’ released early in 1944. Halliwell’s ‘Film Guide’ describes it as “one of the silliest movies ever made, even by the standards of wartime propaganda. The risible narrative makes no sense at all, though Lanchester acts as if her life depended on her performance.”
In brief, Elsa plays a cockney charlady who believes she is protected by a ‘lucky charm’ owned by her late husband (shown in a photo to be Charles Laughton himself!). At the height of the London blitz she sets off to Berlin, armed with her bucket and brush and the ‘lucky charm,’ with the intention of assassinating Hitler. She stows away on a boat across the English Channel and then, by pretending to be deaf and dumb, scrubs her way across Occupied Europe to Germany. Language problems are solved by all the Germans speaking English! Elsa gets a cleaning job in Hitler’s Chancellery (it looks remarkably like a Los Angeles bank) but he’s out at the time so she doesn’t get to assassinate him after all.
There’s a sub-plot involving a good German officer whose girlfriend has been locked up by the Gestapo and it is with his help that Elsa is flown back to London. Back home she discovers that the so-called ‘lucky charm’ was in fact part of a job-lot of glass eyes! It is of course all pure nonsense but is uploaded here for its curiosity value and for Elsa’s top-billed performance.