18 June 2005 | Ron Oliver
Dietrich & Donat In Intelligent Adventure Film
A British spy acts like a KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOUR as he courageously helps a Russian Countess escape the Revolution.
Sir Alexander Korda's London Films produced this lavish drama which puts beautiful Marlene Dietrich & handsome Robert Donat into one mortal peril after another as they attempt to flee a chaotic Red Russia. While full of escapes & near misses, the script takes it for granted that the viewer has the necessary background to understand the causes for the Russian Revolution, and to be able to tell the difference between the Whites and the Reds. A little bit of knowledge adds to the enjoyment of the film immensely, as does the obvious chemistry between Donat & Dietrich, who play their parts with serious conviction.
A fine cast lends their support to the film: David Tree as an enthusiastic young revolutionary; Allan Jeayes as a hospitable White general; and chinless Miles Malleson as a drunken commissar. Legendary stage actress Dame Irene Vanbrugh appears very briefly in a few opening scenes as an elderly Duchess escorting Dietrich.
Especially good are little Hay Petrie as a mad stationmaster waiting for trains which will never arrive, and plummy voiced Sir John Clements as a youthful Red official with a tragic secret.
Movie mavens will recognize Torin Thatcher as a London passport official and corpulent Peter Bull as a bullying commissar, both unbilled.
The film has excellent bones, as it were, based as it is on a novel by James Hilton, which was adapted by the legendary Frances Marion. Lajos Biro wrote the screenplay. The score by Miklós Rózsa incorporates rousing Russian singing and was performed under the baton of Muir Mathieson. Jacques Feyder was the director.
While the White Russians are ostensibly the 'good guys' in the plot, the film is judicious in showing the casual brutality practiced by both sides, as in the scene where Dietrich presides over a dinner table with her White hosts, only to have her meal disturbed by the execution of the Red prisoners. Shortly thereafter, with a change of fortune, the Communists shoot their enemies on the same spot.