(director: George Nichols Jr.; screenwriters: novel Michael Strogoff by Jules Verne/Anthony Veiller/Anne Morrison Chapin/Mortimer Offner; cinematographer: Joseph H. August; editor: Frederic Knudtson; music: Nathaniel Shilkret; cast:  Anton Walbrook (Michael Strogoff), Elizabeth Allan (Nadia), Margot Grahame (Zangarra), Akim Tamiroff (Ogareff), Fay Bainter (Mother), Eric Blore (Blount), Edward Brophy (Packer), Paul Guilfoyle (Vasiley), William Stack (Vladimir), Michael Visaroff (Innkeeper), Paul Harvey (Tsar), Doris Lloyd (Shepherdess), Frank M. Thomas (Railroad Official), Margaret Armstrong (Gypsy Woman), Michael Visaroff (Innkeeper), Oscar Aptel (Tsar’s General); Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Pandro S. Berman/Joseph N. Ermolieff; RKO; 1937-b/w)

“Though exciting as an action film, the dialogue was atrocious.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

George Nicholls Jr. (“The Marines Fly High”/”The Big Game”) directs this historic adventure film from the Napoleonic times that was remade from a French version made in 1936-there was also a German version in 1936. RKO Radio Pictures had purchased the rights to the French version of the movie, and used footage from that film in the American production. The star Anton Walbrook appeared in all the versions. It’s based on the Jules Verne 1876 novel Michael Strogoff and written by Anthony Veiller, Anne Morrison Chapin and Mortimer Offner.

In 1879 the Russian Tsar Alexander II (Paul Harvey) sends a message by courier, the captain of the Russian guards in St. Petersburg, Michael Strogoff (Anton Walbrook, Austrian actor), a Siberian native, where his mother (Fay Bainter) still resides, to his brother the Grand Duke Vladimir (William Stack), at Irkutsk, a Siberian town, alerting him to an immanent attack by the Tartars and Mongrels in a Siberia uprising. The journey is made necessary because the telegraph lines have been cut.

En route by train, the disguised Michael meets the lone girl Nadia (Elizabeth Allan) and gets her a visa so they travel together as siblings. Also on the train is the Tartar spy Zangarra (Margot Grahame), sent to entrap Strogoff by the evil and ruthless Tartar leader Ogareff (Akim Tamiroff). On the train, looking for a war to cover are two comical bumbling American war correspondents, Cyril Blount (Eric Blore) and Eddie Packer (Edward Brophy).

On a ferry to Omsk, filled with gypsies, Michael saves Zangarra from a bear attack. To return the favor, she prevents his assassination, as the henchman of the Tartar leader, Vasilrey (Paul Guilfoyle), plans to steal the war plans Strogoff is carrying on him from the Tsar.

While Michael, Zangarra and Nadia are on the ferry, the Tartars attack, Nadia is captured and Michael is wounded. After awakening in a shepherd’s hut, Michael realizes he is behind enemy lines. At a nearby inn, his mother recognizes him, but to keep his cover denies her claim. He only reveals himself when Ogareff orders her flogged.

Michael is sentenced to be blinded by a white-hot blade passed before his eyes, but Zangarra bribes the executioner to save Michael’s sight by placing the sword over his forehead.

Michael’s mother dies and Zangarra is later executed, but he continues on his mission with Nadia and arrives in Irkutsk. Ogareff pretends he is the Tsar’s courier and delivers a message to trick Vladimir. But Michael and Nadia get word to the Tsar’s brother he’s been duped. In the end Michael kills Ogareff in a fight, then the Russians rout the invaders and Strogoff is later decorated by the Tsar and marries Nadia.

Though exciting as an action film, the dialogue was atrocious.

REVIEWED ON 7/25/2022  GRADE:  B-