(director: Anatole Litvak; screenwriter: George Tabori; cinematographer: Jack Hildyard; editor: Dorothy Spencer; music: George Auric; cast: Deborah Kerr (Lady Diana Ashmore), Yul Brynner (Major Surov), Jason Robards Jr. (Paul Kedes), Robert Morley (Hugh Deverill), E.G. Marshall (Harold Rhinelander), Anne Jackson (Margie Rhinelander), Ronny Howard (Billy Rhinelander), Anouk Aimee (Eva, Freedom Fighter), David Kossoff(Simon Avron), Kurt Kasznar(Csepege), Gérard Oury(Teklel Hafouli), Marie Daems(Françoise Hafouli); Runtime: 127; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Anatole Litvak; Warner Archive Collection; 1959)
“Standard Cold War/romantic triangle story.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Anatole Litvak (“Mayerling”/”Anastasia”/”The Snake Pit”)directs this standard Cold War/romantic triangle story with uneven results. It has a cast of characters who are mostly uninteresting, a story that drags at times due to its slow-pace, the romance part just doesn’t work (though watching Yul and Kerr interact has some entertainment value), while the political part relies on too many cliches to make its case seem that special. Also, its jarring too convenient ending lifted from Casablanca, seems strained. George Tabori’s screenplay is at best only adequate, as it mixes revolutionary political intrigue with romantic intrigue. The film is best at setting up a realistic atmosphere with its location shooting of the war-torn Hungarian countryside at the Austrian-Hungarian border, though its interior shots are flat and stagey. The film was made only three years after the up-rising, and things were still fresh and unsettling about the war events.
It’s set in November in 1956, during Hungary’s failed uprising against the Russian Communist occupiers and in turn the Soviet military occupation of the Iron Curtain country. When the airport in Budapest is closed, 14 international foreign tourist civilians are given a bus ride to cross the border to Austria, but are stopped at the border town of Mosen on orders of the imperious robust duty-bound career soldier commander of the border checkpoint, Major Surov (Yul Brynner), who has a blast lording it over his political detainees while they dine with him at the inn. The detainees include the recently divorced refined British blue-blood Lady Diana Ashmore (Deborah Kerr), traveling with a wounded man carrying an English passport named Fleming. Soon we learn Fleming’s an Hungarian biology professor named Paul Kedes (Jason Robards Jr., in his film debut), who after being tortured as an anti-Communist and imprisoned in a Soviet jail for five years escapes with the help of his former students and his former lover Lady Ashmore, and is trying to get back to London. Also among the group is bossy diplomatic British TV journalist Hugh Deverill (Robert Morley), who pushes himself as spokesman for the tourists and tries his best to help the aristocrat lady in her plight when the major takes their passports and torments the group with questions while keeping them in Hungary indefinitely. The group also has among them typical ugly middle-class American tourists Margie Rhinelander (Anne Jackson) and her husband Harold Rhinelander (E.G. Marshall), and their two active bratty little boys (Flip Mark & Ron Howard).
When an amiable Hungarian innkeeper (Kurt Kasznar) at the detainee’s inn arranges with the local fish seller to smuggle Paul and Diana across the border by boat, the major catches them but is so smitten with Lady Ashmore he goes the Claude Rains route in Casablanca to show us not all Russians are brutes even though Brynner’s Russian character was a stereotypical Russian military type.
What saves this unmemorable pic from the garbage heap was that the political savvy of Litvak was able to register in a few scenes, as he sneaks some things in about humanizing his Russian tyrant wannabe lover boy with the need to talk and openly debate things, showing that its the Soviet government and not war-weary soldiers who are the monsters and showing us that it’s heroic to not accept tyranny even if the Hungarian freedom fighter ruthlessly kill their foes.
REVIEWED ON 8/28/2012 GRADE: C+