21 May 2004 | rsoonsa
A GENERALLY UNRECOGNIZED WORK OF HIGH QUALITY.
The working title for this Paramount production, "Red Harvest", was discarded before its release due to popularity of Dashiell Hammett's novel of the same name published three years before the motion picture was completed (its replacement title signifies, of course, nothing). Although an excellent work, it was largely ignored because of its charitable depiction of Russian aristocrats during the 1919 Revolution, a latter day event in the experience of most contemporary critics in Depression devastated United States who viewed it as portal to a bold and promising proletarian adventure. John Cromwell, always a capable craftsman and noted for his close rapport with actors, has to deal here with two of the most temperamental: George Bancroft and Miriam Hopkins, the former's overweening ego and the insistence by the difficult Hopkins upon achievement of visual perfection for each of her scenes defeating most directors. Nonetheless, Cromwell, as is his custom, responds to a good script, as does any effectual talespinner, and as this example by Oliver Garrett, freely adapted from an original play of Philip Zeska and Ernst Spitz, is a very fine one indeed, he sagely permits Hopkins to create her own performance that consequently is only strengthened, while the director concentrates upon the overall achitectonics, including masterful use of montage. The scenario tells of grim resistance to captivity by members of the Tsarist aristocracy fleeing from a Red Russian brigade that is intent upon bringing about their execution before they can reach Sevastopol, White Russian stronghold along the Crimean coast. The film is interestingly cast, with Alan Mowbray excelling as a patrician refusing to accept hegemony by Communists, and the storyline evolves in engrossing fashion, as twists and turns abound to the very closing moments. True auteur of the film is its cinematographer, Karl Struss, a celebrated still photographer whose work today is frequently exhibited and very collectable. A creative technician of the first order, ever inspired to seek an appropriate aesthetic for each film, Struss here fashions images that are among the most memorable in cinema, his camera's eye a vicarious observer during artistically lighted scenes wherein effects upon tangential characters describe action in this splendid motion picture that has been wrongly relegated into The Memory Hole