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  • Rosabel14 July 2005
    Warning: Spoilers
    It's hard to focus on just what is the biggest problem with this film. I'd have to start with the casting. Ivan Mosjukine made only this one film in the U.S. - he was a huge star in Europe, but this vehicle did not succeed in making him one in America. I tend to think that he was so gifted, he could do absolutely anything, but here he was clearly miscast. He could play a villain or a lover, but the one thing I think he just could not do was believably play a man who would force himself on a woman. It just wasn't in him - you can tell throughout every film he made that the guy just really loved women, and by all accounts the adoration was reciprocated. Scarpia he ain't, and without a feeling of threat or danger, the plot falls apart. Mary Philbin, as his love interest, is not particularly good, either, but this is probably less a question of casting and more one of her acting ability. She can look merry and she can sob hysterically, but for anything in between, her expression is a sort of pained sullenness. The story wasn't absolutely lacking in dramatic possibilities, after all - maybe with a more fiery leading lady, Mosjukine might have been able to meet her with more passion himself, but she is just utterly inert, even during the love scenes.

    There are a few nice things in the film - the portrayal of traditional Jewish village life seems pretty respectful (though I speak as an outsider). It's even rather funny, as two brothers march down the street arguing, and the titles are written in Hebrew, liberally sprinkled with exclamation marks! The way the crowd turns on poor Lea at the end is a bit unbelievable, though I don't think the intention was anti-Semitic; more a reflection on how people in mobs tend to act irrationally, which was hardly a unique theme at the time. Still, I have to think her father might have done a better job telling off the hypocrites in the crowd, who a few hours before were weeping and begging her to sacrifice herself to save them, then as soon as they're safe, start reproaching her and turn her out of town. The ending is a bit perplexing - obviously, in the intervening years, the Russian Revolution has come and stripped Constantin of his princely rank, so we see him dressed as a peasant when he comes back to reclaim his love. But the story is supposed to be taking place in Austria, not Russia, so what's with the 'Comrade' business at the end? And even if he's no longer a prince...uh, she's still Jewish and he isn't, right? And wasn't that the whole problem to begin with, rather than their respective classes? Or are we to suppose that the Communist Revolution (in another country) also managed to obliterate all religious differences as well? Or is everything alright because her father is dead now? It's hard to say - this looks like a "Love Conquers All" happy ending slapped on without any very clear thinking of how it could really come about. And since Ivan Mosjukine had to flee Russia BECAUSE of the Russian Revolution, I have to wonder just how he felt about playing a "reformed" Russian prince who is set free by Communism to finally be united with his beloved? That might have contributed a bit to his obvious unease in this project.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    SYNOPSIS: Russians invade Austria and occupy a Jewish border town. The leader of the Russian garrison is smitten by the Rabbi's daughter. So he threatens to burn the whole town to the ground and incinerate everyone in the town alive unless she allows him to sleep with her. Everyone in the town, except her father, the Rabbi, begs her to accede. She declines, but when the Russian commander starts to carry out his threat, she decides she has no option but to do so. She makes her way to the commander's headquarters and enters his suite. But before the Russian commander can carry out his will, the Austrians attack in force and the Russians are forced to flee. The rescued Jewish townspeople then turn on the Rabbi's daughter for heeding their pleas and attempt to stone her to death. The Rabbi tries to stop them. So the Jewish townspeople kill him instead.

    COMMENT: A movie of prodigious length – well over two hours at correct speed – Surrender is fortunately now available in its original, all-tinted Kodascope version in a beautiful DVD from Grapevine Video. An exception to Kodak's usual procedure, the movie was cut down to 6 reels instead of the customary five. At this length, it's most watchable. But there's no wonder it failed at the box office. The anti-Jewish story would not exactly sit well with just about everyone engaged in the movie industry and one wonders how Carl Laemmle and his many Jewish executives at Universal (including producer Paul Kohner) decided to resurrect Brody's obscure old play in the first place. Presumably they were grasping at straws to find a suitable vehicle for top-rated Russian import, Ivan Mosjoukine. As for the acting, just about all critics and viewers agree that Mary Philbin was rotten and everyone else did a creditable job. I disagree. I thought Mary Philbin was superb and underplayed her role most effectively, while everyone else – including most particularly the celebrated Ivan Mosjoukine – chewed up the scenery.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Mary Philbin deserves at least a permanent footnote in movie history, as the actress who memorably unmasked the Phantom of the Opera in Lon Chaney's greatest film. She also gave a fine performance as the blind heroine in 'The Man Who Laughs', directed by the brilliant Paul Leni. Apart from these two films and 'The Last Performance' (also by an exceptional director), Philbin's career is nothing much. Her beautiful looks far exceeded her acting ability, and she wasn't able to carry a film in the lead role.

    In 'Surrender', Philbin plays the central role ... and her talents simply aren't up to the job. The poor script and lacklustre direction don't help. The action is set in 1914, in a Jewish village in Austria, near the eastern frontier. Philbin plays Lea, the beauteous daughter of the local rabbi (Nigel De Brulier). The town is invaded by a division of Cossack soldiers, commanded by a colonel named Constantine. (It doesn't help that the intertitles refer to this warlord by his forename rather than his surname.) Constantine's cossacks are all set to pillage the village, but there isn't much worth stealing ... so Constantine vows to burn the place to the ground. Then he spots beautiful Lea, and changes his mind: the village and its people will be spared if Lea will have sex with him.

    SPOILERS COMING. Lea appears to be the standard silent-film heroine, virginal and noble, so it's surprising that her nobility exceeds her virginality. To the surprise and outrage of her father, Lea agrees to spend the night with Constantine in order to save her village. Rather surprisingly, and implausibly, she and Constantine fall in love with each other, and he repents his former actions. (You call yourself a Cossack, fella?) 'Surrender' is one of those annoying movies which subscribes to the view that, if a man harasses a woman long enough, she'll eventually fall in love with him.

    This movie is extremely overwrought, and much of the blame goes to the subtitles ... which read like something out of a Mills & Boon paperback romance. There's plenty of blame left over for the actors, most of whom overact wretchedly. Otto Matieson gives a performance of some subtlety.

    The film ends tragically but also implausibly, when the rabbi decides that he must strangle his own daughter for the dishonour she has brought upon him. Nigel De Brulier looks like he would blow away in a stiff wind, so I couldn't believe he was capable of strangling Philbin. Also, the close-ups reveal the pale irises in Philbin's eyes: I can't tell what colour her eyes are in this monochrome film, but these close-ups weaken the casting of Philbin as a (presumably Ashkenazi) dark-eyed Jewish princess. (Let's have no jokes about 'Princess Lea'.)

    The best thing about 'Surrender' is its title, which turns out to have at least three meanings. Edward Sloman was a deservedly obscure director, whose best film is likely 'Murder by the Clock'. I'll rate 'Surrender' 4 points out of 10, and I'm being generous.