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  • Knight Without Armour finds Robert Donat as a British agent, fluent in Russian, sent to spy on the revolutionary movement even before World War I started. Such things were done I'm sure as farsighted folks in the Foreign Office probably saw Europe headed for general war and Russia would have been the United Kingdom's ally in that case.

    Donat plays his part all too well, he's captured as a revolutionary and sent to Siberia and spends most of World War I there. Whatever else it does it certainly helps his cover. The original revolution that brought Kerensky to power frees the political prisoners and Donat now has to try and make his way home.

    In a parallel story aristocrat Marlene Dietrich gets the shock of her life when one day she wakes up and her servants have fled because the Russian Revolution has come to town. From hero{ine} to zero overnight, she's got to get out of a country that's now shooting her kind on general principles.

    They become allies of convenience and of course the shared experience of escape forges a romance as well. Both turn out to be pretty clever at taking advantages of breaks as they are captured a couple of times during the film.

    Robert Donat was one of the few of her leading men to not fall under Dietrich's amorous sway. But they became good friends and according to a recent biography of Marlene, Dietrich helped Donat with a special breathing technique she learned about to help control his asthma. Donat suffered from asthma all his life and it eventually killed him.

    The film is based on a lesser known work of British novelist James Hilton who also wrote Random Harvest and Lost Horrizon and of course Goodbye Mr. Chips for which Donat won his Academy Award for. It seems as though Hilton wrote his books with either Robert Donat or Ronald Colman in mind for the screen, they played his heroes so well.

    On screen Knight Without Armour suits the images and talents of Robert Donat and Marlene Dietrich well and fans of both will appreciate it.
  • ormolu18 December 2004
    Hardly ever seen on TV or cable, this sweeping spectacle is a rare but welcome opportunity to see Marlene at the height of her powers as a star. Sadly, good prints seem to be rare. We saw it on a slightly scratchy VHS cassette we bought used on the internet but it brought back wonderful memories and its attention to period Russian detail is truly great. After a while the film overcame its physical limitations (in the print). The Russian atmosphere is superior to that in Dr. Zhivago, which seems flat and two dimensional in many ways.

    The first appearance of Alexandra at the races in England, her departure by train for Russia, her presentation at court in a procession of girls in white presentation gowns and Russian headdresses--all perfectly detailed--to Nicholas and Alexandra, ("Lucky devil", a court lady says of her fiancé, "he is the most stupid officer at court and she is the smartest girl"), the attempted assassination of her father in her wedding procession across a bridge in St. Petersburg, her taking tea alone at the gardens of the neoclassical Adraxin country estate, served by a procession of servants and then waking up and finding the servants have deserted, the Revolution having begun, are all extremely beautifully done. True to 1930's convention, her makeup is never out of place, except in one scene when peasants capture her in her gauzy nightgown and negligee.

    Robert Donat is a perfect foil to her elegance, dashing and always the epitome of 1930s savoir faire. His scenes as a prisoner in Siberia are also very well done.

    All in all a great 1930's adventure of the highest style. They will never make another one like this! Jacques Feyder was a great director and his use of Marlene is equal to von Sternberg's. Bravo Countess Adraxin! Another great and sadly overlooked star vehicle for La Dietrich!
  • One truly cares about the characters in "Knight Without Armour" (1937) (which at present is only available on Region 4 DVD---officially, that is). John Clements almost steals the film with a role that is little more than a cameo, but superbly acted. One can see how this part led to his being cast as the lead in "The Four Feathers" (1939), the very best motion picture produced by Alexander Korda and released by London Films, and one of the best movies of all time. Other character actors such as Miles Malleson also do memorable bits.

    This atypical role for Marlene Dietrich---a truly vulnerable, feminine character, though noble and glamorous---is superbly realised by the German actress, here playing a Russian countess. Robert Donat, excellent as always, is the lead, an Englishman travelling incognito in Russia before, during, and after the Revolution.

    There is one scene early in the film which is an interesting reversal of a portion of "Battleship Potemkin"'s Odessa Steps sequence: in "Potemkin" the "White" Cossacks, a faceless, cruelly efficient horde simultaneously gun down a "Red" woman who tries to appeal to them for mercy for her dying child. In "Knight Without Armour" a horde of Reds trudge en masse across the palatial estate of "White" Countess Alexandra, played by Marlene Dietrich. The scene in which she encounters the unsympathetic, destructive mob on her great lawn, and the momentary lull before they act, is unmistakably a comment upon "Potemkin" and its pro-Red propaganda.

    American audiences may find the various, regional British accents of the Russian characters a bit jarring. Filmed during the height of the Depression, this is a great lovers-on-the-run film with a world-falling-apart backdrop, irresistible entertainment in any era. Find this one! Used VHS copies are easily had. Miklos Rozsa's score, one of his first for film, has the same warmth and pathos that embodies most of his splendid catalog of work.
  • As usual, seeing this film via TCM or Turner Classic Movies was a most enjoyable experience. The subtext of "Knight ..." is that every known revolution is an entirely messy affair. Entirely.

    The story is told in a rather straight-forward fashion and for most fans it will only augment their affection for, or resentment against, the female lead -- Marlene Dietrich. Like certain other stars of the cinema in the 1930s, she is always really just Marlene, take it or leave it alone. It works well in this mad adventure of a Russian Countess who awakes one morning to discover her world has crumbled.

    The scene where she is confronted by a mob of revolutionaries, on her own beautifully manicured lawn, and without so much as one member of her staff there to speak up for her, is amazingly effective. It works and it works well in a fairly understated and yet unambiguous way.

    Robert Donat, always one of my personal favorites, does yeoman's work.

    He's the British secret agent who speaks Russian like a native and is clever enough to adapt to almost any situation. He is brilliant in this role ( and it is understood after the fact that Dietrich insisted that he not be replaced when he suffered a bad asthma attack as the production was just getting under way ).

    All these decades later, those of us who are not so conversant with the historical basis of the Russian Revolution will probably be shocked by the casual slaughters that both the Reds, and the Whites indulged in.

    There's much to recommend in this fine film and the Russian music that gets salted in here and there is tremendously emotional and workable.

    Flat out, I really liked this rickety old movie and I could have used another fifteen minutes of Dietrich and Donat, no problem !! Eight of ten stars for the intrigue and this beguiling romance.
  • 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.
  • In "Knight Without Armour" (***) Robert Donat plays a British journalist in 1914 revolutionary Russia who is persuaded by his government to go undercover as a "red." The catch is that if he's caught the British home office will disavow any knowledge of him. He is caught and spends two years in Siberia before the death of Czar Nicholas and the fall of the Russian nobility free him. He then becomes the right hand man for an influential revolutionary commissar. Needless to say, his heart isn't really in it and when he gets an opportunity to escort a rich and pampered Russian countess back to headquarters in Petrograd for questioning he decides to help them both escape from the country. They are then tossed about like footballs from one side to the other. The plot is really rather ingenious, although you get the impression that the filmaker's hearts are more on the side of the corrupt "white" establishment if for no other reason that it never misses an occasion for glamorous star close-ups of Marlene D. in extravagantly opulent costumes. Even a young red official is so smitten with her he sacrifices himself in order to save her and Donat from one nasty predicament. I suppose the film wanted to avoid appearing to be too pro-communist, but in the process it comes down a little too much on the side of "noblesse oblige." The film ends a bit abruptly with Donat and Dietrich seemingly a long way from being out of the woods yet, but all-in-all it's beautifully produced and holds the interest pretty much all the way through. Good scene: Dietrich awakening one morning alone in her palace to discover that her entire household of servants has fled. If you can find a good print of this unusual oldie, it's worth seeing.
  • It takes place in Russia, but otherwise this film is a long way from "The Scarlet Empress." Marlene Dietrich, playing an aristocrat who is targeted by the Bolsheviks, does not display her usual tough persona. She's warm, human, almost innocent, not to mention gorgeous. No wonder so many of the male characters take great risks and even betray their beliefs to help her. Robert Donat's character, the man who wins her heart, is a British agent operating under deep cover, originally assigned to infiltrate radical groups in Czarist Russia. Caught up in World War I and the Russian Revolution, he is cut off from contact with his spy bosses for years. Alone and then with his lady love, he has a remarkable series of adventures. The story is sweeping, fast-paced and intelligent, making "Knight Without Armour" one of the best movies in English about this turbulent period in Russian history. As some other commentators have noted, it is not propagandistic. Czarist Russia is shown as an often unjust and corrupt place, but also tormented by mindless radical terrorism. The Bolsheviks who later seize power are a mix of idealists, thugs and fanatics, with the fanatics on their way to gaining the upper hand. You don't have to care about Russia to enjoy this movie. If you like intelligent thrills, you ought to see it.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Most people never have heard of Bruce Lockhart. He was (with Sidney Reilly) one of the two best British Agents in Russia at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. Reilly (whose life was the basis of a BBC series about twenty years ago called REILLY: ACE OF SPIES) died in Russia - either having been executed or (more likely) willing to become an agent of the Soviet Secret Police. Lockhart stayed in Russia until the early 1920s, when (in a remarkable series of close calls) he escaped through Central Asia into India and returned home. His memoirs were eventually published.

    Lockhart's career is the basis of James Hilton's character A. J. Fothergill / Peter Ouragoff (Robert Donat) in the novel KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOUR. Not totally, of course. Lockhart did not end his life with an ex-Russian countess as his wife (Marlene Dietrich here, as Countess Alexandra Vladinoff). But the general tone of Lockhart's career in Russia is there. Also the support Lockhart (and most western governments) tended to give the White Russians who were anti-Bolshevik.

    The story is Hilton's Russian Revolution novel. As such it tends to the anti - Bolshevik line that the West took, with Dietrich one of the persecuted ex-aristocrats who are in danger of being shot by the new rulers of Russia. To the credit of the screenplay some of the White Russian brutality is shown, but the edge of the story looks at the Bolsheviks as evil incarnate, except for John Clements who finds that rescuing Dietrich at one point is just too much for his own twisted standards.

    The film is a good one, but somehow the action is too jumpy - in particular the initial stages of the story which goes from 1910 to 1917 to quickly. We know that Dietrich is widowed by the war, but we never learn what happened to her husband (presumably killed in battle). Some of the later events are speed-ed up, and the conclusion we assume is happy, as Donat jumps out of the temporary restraints on his own person, and apparently jumps successfully onto Dietrich's train to be reunited with her.

    But the best moment of the film is shared with another actor - Hay Petrie as a station master. It was the scene that stood out above all others to Graham Greene, at that time a movie critic for a London newspaper. Greene enjoyed this weird scene where Donat and Dietrich are fleeing and find railway tracks and a little, undisturbed station. They enter and go to the ticket office, but can't find anyone. Then Petrie turns up and says that they'll have to purchase their tickets on the next train. He tells them it will be there in fifteen minutes. They sit down and hope the train will take them away from their Bolshevik pursuers. They converse about their situation and plans. Then Petrie returns and tells them to get ready - the train is coming. They go out on the platform and don't see any sign of any train in either direction. Petrie comes out waiving a broken lantern and announcing the arrival of the next train, and the horrified couple realize they've been dealing with a madman. Greene was right: it was the moment of the film that remains most firmly in one's memory.
  • Robert Donat is a British spy who is a "Knight Without Armor" in this 1937 Alexander Korda film, also starring Marlene Dietrich as a widowed Countess. Donat is A.J. Fothergill, a Brit in Russia who is recruited to spy on the revolutionary movement in 1913 because of his knowledge of the language. After being imprisoned in Siberia, he's released due to the 1917 revolution. As an assistant to a commissar he met in Siberia, he is assigned to the takeover of the estate of Countess Alexandra (Dietrich). He has to take her to Petrograd, and ultimately, they fall in love. He then attempts to get her out of the country.

    A very good and absorbing film with Donat and the beautiful Dietrich giving wonderful performances as they trudge through Mother Russia. Be she in peasant clothes, babushka, nightgown, wedding gown, or evening gown, Dietrich looks fabulous, makeup intact. The most stunning scene takes place in the beginning when she wakes up in her gorgeous bedroom and rings for her maid. No maid. She gets up and searches the house. Nobody. She goes outside in her long white flowing nightgown, hair loose. Nothing. She spots her maid and calls to her. The maid runs. Dietrich turns around to see the entire horizon covered with soldiers coming at her. Fabulous.

    There are many wonderful scenes, including a crowd stopping a train, that really capture the feeling of the chaos, panic, and dirt of war.

    Robert Donat is marvelous, elegant of voice, sometimes a character actor and sometimes, with a wavy lock of hair on his forehead and kissing Dietrich, a very effective romantic leading man.

    Very exciting film, and you really care about these characters. Highly recommended.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Some of my favorite films of the 1930s and 40s were based on James Hilton novels, so when I saw that "Knight Without Armor" was based on one of his books, I was thrilled. After all, he was responsible for such wonderful films as "Lost Horizon", "Goodbye Mr. Chips" and "Random Harvest" (though this last one IS quite a bit different from his book). Then, when I saw the wonderful actor Robert Donat starred in it, I knew I had to see it! The movie begins with Donat agreeing to spy for the British on the Revolutionary rumbles within Russia just before the World War I began. However, soon his cover is blown and he is arrested and sent to Siberia! Several years pass in a prison camp until he ultimately is liberated by the Communists---during the height of the Revolution in 1917.

    Eventually Donat meets up with the Countess (Marlene Dietrich) who is determined to make her way to safety out of the new Soviet Union. Much of the film is spent with the two of them sneaking across this huge country towards freedom and it comes off a bit like "It Happened One Night"--just without all the comedy (comedy was, understandably, not something the Revolution was known for, by the way). And, like Gable and Colbert, romance soon blossoms. But the way out is treacherous and you'll just have to tune in yourself to see how it all unfolds.

    As usual, Donat is very good--believable and not especially 'flashy'. As for Dietrich, I am not a huge fan of her films, but she's very good here as she ditches her usual glamorous image and it suits her. Now if only she had non-penciled in eyebrows, she's have been terrific! They just looked odd AND hiding among the peasantry wasn't very believable with the fashionable but creepy plucked brows. The direction was very nice--with a soft touch and lots of excellent touches. It was a very nice looking film from start to finish--with a rather brutal scene near the end involving a firing squad.

    By the way, I think tonight was the first time Turner Classic Movies showed this rare film. However, I noticed that the film seemed to play at a slightly slower speed than it should. The sound seemed okay, but the actors moved at a noticeably slower than normal pace. I am not sure how this happened, as all sound films run at 24 frames per second and don't vary like a silent film (which runs anywhere from 16-22 fps). Isn't there some way this can be corrected?!
  • I would see this movie again and again just to look at Robert Donat and hear that lovely voice of his, although I must agree that Marlene Dietrich isn't bad either. She manages to get herself into some stunning gowns and looks none the worse for being overthrown by a group of bitter peasants. (That's always the problem with her movies.) Knight Without Armor is a wonderful film of its era, full of charm and with some unexpected allusions to what we must assume (in fact, know) was a very successful sexual encounter in a scene just dripping with double entendre. The film is an interesting and more or less ambiguous view of the Russian Revolution. The chemistry between the two actors works very well--and Donat truly is a knight without armor. It's a shame that he was in so few films--he was such a remarkable and beautiful presence on the screen.
  • Although the plot may seem thin I consider it a very absorbing film - lots of drama and action. It is a movie of its time so modern expectations are out of place. Marlene Dietrich shines in this one of course but I view it because Robert Donat is there also. It's my opinion that their screen kiss is one of the finest on record, very touching and tender. All in all, well worth the popcorn!
  • This was one of the most extreme examples of the durability of eye makeup in 30s cinema. Whether waking up from deep sleep, held prisoner without toilette facilities, covered with dead leaves on a forest floor, traveling across the muddy steppe, the leading lady's penciled brows, shadowed lids and false eyelashes neither budge nor smudge. Even the lipstick stays perfect until near the end when a bout of illness suddenly erases it.

    But seriously, this is a thoughtful and multifaceted look at the Russian Revolution from a James Hilton novel. But too often the plot wanders off periodically into atmospheric details until one forgets it entirely until it picks up again, reminding us that, oh yes, there is a plot.

    Marlene Dietrich plays a beautiful countess who emerges from her silken sheets one morning to face a silent mob of armed revolutionary peasants marching directly towards her. She is taken prisoner but rescued by Robert Donat, a British agent posing as a Russian revolutionary. Together they flee their Red pursuers through the wreckage and chaos of post-Revolutionary Russia.

    As in Doctor Zhivago many years later, we enter the Russian civil war from the perspective of the Reds and then the Whites. This film lacks Zhivago's sweep and scope but presents a convincing and compelling, if somewhat sketchy, picture of its time and place with masterful camera work, authentic looking costumes and surroundings (including actual condensed breath when called for), stirring Russian music, a sigh-inducingly romantic portrayal by Dietrich, the last of her wide-eyed, breathy ingénues, and one of imperturbable gallantry and nobility by Donat.
  • That was Jacques Feyder's only English movie.He had just done his major works " Le Grand Jeu" "Pension mimosas" and "La Kermesse Heroique" and "Knight without armour" in spite of obvious qualities cannot compare with them.

    This is a tormented love story between a commissar (Donat) and a Russian countess of the old Russian aristocracy (Dietrich)who try to get to the border .The plot sometimes recalls a "Doctor Zhivago" in miniature.

    Best scenes ,in my opinion,are to be found in the first part: Dietrich,walking across her desirable mansion,all dressed in white ,finding that her staff has left home and joined the revolution;the same,facing a sinister-looking pack of Reds in her park.

    The mad station master,ceaselessly repeating that a train is coming into the station (madness was also present in Feyder's former works :"Le Grand jeu "was a good example of folie à deux )
  • In Tsarist Russia, the incoming Communists cause understandable problems for glamorous, aristocratic Marlene Dietrich (as Alexandra Vladinoff) and handsome British journalist-turned-spy Robert Donat (as Ainsley J. Fothergill). Neither have backgrounds that are especially well-liked by the working class. When the Russian Revolution gains steam, Ms. Dietrich and Mr. Donat struggle to escape what looks like the installation of a firing squad on every block.

    Like Greta Garbo observed in the hilarious "Ninotchka" (1939), "There are going to be fewer, but better Russians."

    Dietrich and Donat are a very attractive couple, but their relationship with the camera is obviously more important than their characters' growing love. Both are clearly posed and unfocused throughout. A truly memorable characterization is given by John Clements (as Poushkoff), a suspicious but star-struck commissar you should look out for later in the running time. Director Jacques Feyder and photographer Harry Stradling make it a beautiful-looking film.

    ****** Knight Without Armour (6/1/37) Jacques Feyder ~ Marlene Dietrich, Robert Donat, John Clements, David Tree
  • Knight without Armour is extremely melodramatic and somewhat tedious. Just when you think you've reached the end, the plot goes on and on and on. Dietrich shows how to have flawlessly overdone hair while on the run. Donat's Russian hat is reminiscent of Dietrich's in Scarlett Empress. In fact at times his costume looks like he's doing a drag act on Dietrich! Nevertheless, the film is entertaining and required viewing for Marlene Dietrich fans and collectors.

    This film was once very hard to find at all and is still limited in DVD availability. I searched for this film for ages before finally finding it as an Australian DVD (Reion 4--US viewers can strip region encoding and burn a disc playable on Region 1 players).
  • No matter that the world is crumbling around her, MARLENE DIETRICH is always ready for her close-up. She gets plenty of them in KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOR, a sort of poor man's "Dr. Zhivago" with overtones of "The 39 Steps" and other such thrillers thrown in.

    ROBERT DONAT is the dashing hero and he looks fine, although it is said that he was already suffering badly from the asthma that would eventually kill him years later. It helps to have some background on this subject before watching because the film gets off to a murky start about opposing forces in Russia and Donat being asked to become a British spy and assuming the identity of a Russian.

    The first big action scene is just one of many explosions along the way, as Donat decides to help Dietrich escape from the revolutionaries around them who are brutally bent on killing each other.

    I was too tired to watch the whole movie and will have to wait to see how it all turns out the next time it airs on TCM.

    Marlene Dietrich's fans will see her looking her glorious best throughout all the strife and turmoil of the Russian Revolution. Interesting to note that this was Miklos Rozsa's first assignment as a composer. He makes use of lively Russian folk tunes throughout.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Casting Marlene Dietrich (a coup achieved only after Donat's own two preferred actresses proved unavailable -- he was supposed to have the right of veto on the leading lady) may have been a publicity coup for Alexander Korda, but to be honest I'm not sure it did the film any favours.

    With Dietrich on board and then Donat so ill the start of the film had to be shot around him, the part of the Russian Countess was massively pumped-up, causing the running time to go seriously over-length. Supposedly about two hours of material then had to be cut out, a process which is most evident towards the beginning of the film where passing time is skated over very unevenly.

    Secondly, scenes featuring Dietrich have a tendency to feature long, loving close-ups of her face at the expense of pacing, plausibility (her make-up never falters) and acting -- Donat's own close-ups are reaction shots in which we see a shadow of significant emotion or realisation, but Dietrich's might as well be promotional stills for all the expression she gets to demonstrate. (Ironically she also comes across as too worldly and sophisticated for the part, certainly in the opening scenes: I had her pegged as an unmarried daughter/companion in her twenties from her racetrack appearance, and was jolted to subsequently find that the character was supposed to be a teenage débutante!) Dietrich was far better in her earlier Russian role of "The Scarlet Empress", Catherine the Great: here she is little more than a doll to be pushed around and emerge in an improbable china glow.

    It is perhaps because of this that I can't see any real chemistry between the two characters: Donat shows chivalry and protectiveness throughout, but his subsequent protestations of love (and her requisite responses) felt to me very arbitrary and artificial. A sudden excess of calling one another 'darling' and kissing are not the same thing as demonstrating any actual feeling between the characters, unfortunately, and the script feels forced in this respect.

    Where the film does shine -- or at least engross - is in its depiction of the scrambling post-revolutionary war of brutality and counter-brutality, and the hordes of hapless refugees caught up between the two. There are a lot of executions in this film; then just when the audience is keyed up for another, the hero makes his escape (courtesy of an unexpectedly schoolboy knockdown blow) and the others scheduled for execution take advantage of the confusion to attempt to turn the tables. Subconsciously I suppose we expect a morally uplifting outcome, which makes the brutal bayoneting that follows all the more shocking.

    As others have said, the scene where the Countess wakes up to find her entire house deserted -- save for one peasant woman at the riverside who flees at the sight of her -- is a powerful one, as is the moment when she faces down the mob... unsuccessfully. I did find the big reveal of the line of soldiers suddenly coming over the brow all around the horizon to be a little too cinematic for its own good, though: shades of Westerns throughout the ages, in a scene that's more "Tale of Two Cities". (My other problem with this scene is that, again, Dietrich displays almost no emotion of any kind and just stands there in soft-focus looking blankly beautiful.)

    Sections of this film are very good, but they are mostly not the sections featuring the character of the Countess; and certainly not those using her as a glamour object, which tend to be rather banal. I can't help suspecting that what I'm seeing is the bones of the original novel showing through the star overlay.
  • iam-118 January 2000
    Not a film to run out and spend weeks trying to locate, KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOUR is a sweet romantic adventure that is dramatic in an old-fashioned, romantic sense.

    While well acted, the story is a little thin, and the tension does not so much build, as it seeps into the scene and crawls out of the way of the action. You don't feel worry or dread for the characters, but you do feel concern. Boring? Maybe a little.

    The characters are interesting, if a little stereotypical, but what do you expect from a film of this era? What this does have going for it is Ms. Dietrich, her acting is directed a little big, but it's that era. See it to look at Marlene.
  • King Vidor, having seen Alexander Korda's KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOUR, was so overwhelmed by the 'beautiful photography' and the 'railroad trains coming in at a station' that it inspired him and aided him in filming his movie THE CITADEL. And indeed, it still seems that the two most eye-catching features of KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOUR, based on James Hilton's novel WITHOUT ARMOUR (1934) and adapted to the screen by Frances Marion, are: the grandeur of the Denham Studios that Alexander Korda founded in London in 1932 and the great contribution of the cinematographer Harry Strandling. Another artistic plus is renowned Miklos Rozsa's music score. Nevertheless, although this movie has quite stood a test of time, it prompts quite diverse opinions. On the one hand, Jeremy Arnold rightly observes in his review on the film that "everything about it was big – the cast, the budget, the sets and the scope of the story itself;" on the other hand, Dennis Schwartz bitterly admits that it never gave him "a pause to think he was seeing something special." Consequently, the film has, after all these years, turned into paradoxical 'delight without ardor.' Whenever viewers may be dazzled by the movie's power, there is 'something missing.'

    The movie opens in Ascot but soon moves to St Petersburg, the symbol of tsarist Russia, one of the favorite locations for both the great love stories and the great dramas. The time span that the movie depicts is between 1913 and 1917. Though not a long period of time for the storytelling, a highly challenging and dramatic time. 1917 actually marks the most notorious change in the Russia of the time – it is the Russian Revolution, the time when, indeed, 'today' meant the END for so many people. Within these hard circumstances and the nights of history, something very genuine grows – it is the privileged 'love' theme incorporated so frequently into such contexts by Hollywood.

    He is a young Brit, a journalist overwhelmed by the revolutionary ideas having been severely punished by the previous tsarist tyranny within the nights without glamor in Siberia. She is the countess, the relic of the past, the twilight of the old world and and mockingly laughed at by comrades. Yet, these differences, echoing the key screen romances of misalliance do not stop them from falling into each other's arms in the most unpredictable and hazardous situations. 'Where would I go without you?' appears to be their message. Within the 'extensive odyssey through revolutionary Russia' (as Jeremy Arnold observes), they blend with the historical background and, consequently, there is no highlight of neither aspect. Variety staff rightly refers to Jacques Feyder's movie being "a labored effort to keep this picture neutral on the subject of the Russian Revolution finally completely overshadows the simple story intertwining' the pair in love. Dennis Schwartz also addresses this aspect saying that the film is "a big-budget sumptuous love-on-the-run adventure story, with the chaotic Russian revolution of 1917 in the background." Therefore, that is not where the movie's delight resides.

    It resides in the performances delivered by "Knight Without Asthma" (nickname of Robert Donat) and "Countess Without Armour" (nickname of Marlene Dietrich).

    Today, it is perhaps Marlene Dietrich who supplies the movie with interesting aspects for the viewers. Under the direction of Jacques Feyder (known for two Garbo films), she delivers something more sumptuous than under the bizarre, almost authoritatively parental obsessions of Josef Von Sternberg. Although Variety criticized Dietrich for 'restricting herself to just looking glamorous,' one cannot agree that she is the woman with sole glamor herein. Of course, it is not Dietrich's typical role (foremost because she does not sing) but, nevertheless, she offers lots of moments, first as the countess Alexandra Vladinoff in dazzling costumes to the devoted manifestation of pure romance-product of the Hollywood of the time. She is not Catherine the Great but the old Russia, the fallen wealth, the suffering dignity, the manifestation of the declined might. Actually, three scenes require particular attention: first, Marlene facing the mob, which evokes the arrogance and brutality of the Bolsheviks at the Vladinoff Estate which echoes Garbo as the Swedish queen facing the incited mob (of course, the differences are marked by verbal/non verbal communication and the result but the moments bare certain similarities); the humorous bathtub scene (which echoes another 1930s star taking a milk bath – Claudette Colbert) and the scene at the railroad station when the two quote British playwrights.

    The collaboration with Robert Donat results in quite a chemistry between the two. From the historical point of view, they truly mark a confusing border between the two worlds they represent, within the conflicts of those worlds; from the artistic standpoint, however, they gain quite outstanding and underrated achievement. And Marlene's collaboration with others? And the supporting cast?

    From the supporting cast, one can say that Basil Gill as revolution sympathizer bookshop keeper Axelstein is worth attention. He echoes all male background characters that, to a certain extent, has impact on the leading character. But from Marlene's collaboration with Alexander Korda, there is a nice anecdote in which there was a sum and there was a promotion of...Josef Von Sternberg. James Arnold refers to that. Korda was asked by the assertive woman to hire Von Sternberg in his upcoming production with Charles Laughton and Merle Oberon. The production was one of the most doomed productions ever, the never completed film haunted by a 'mysterious curse...I CLAUDIUS based on Graves' novel, fully materialized much later in the stunning BBC production of the 1970s, this time with a smashing success. But let me conclude about this movie.

    KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOUR is slightly 'delight without ardor – it offers a lot and yet, there is something missing. Something that could have been done to make it less dazzling and more timelessly appealing, something more psychological that, perhaps, had existed in the creative project but did not fully materialize. In spite of that, it's worth seeing!
  • Just check the schedule for TCM.

    Next showing is 6pm Nov 16th 2010.

    As the above review says - it's "a great lovers-on-the-run film with a world-falling-apart backdrop" - as well as a wonderful period piece, and extravagant costume film! It is a very complicated film reminiscent of Dr Zhivago! And even tho little known, it was just a pleasant surprise to see the future star of The Four Feathers join the ensemble halfway thro...

    TCM is wonderful because they restore old films, and this one is presented scratch free with no sound defects...
  • boblipton12 January 2021
    Robert Donat speaks Russian, so he gets sent to Russia by the British Government to spy on the growing communist movement. When they take over, he's on his own resources, and Aristocratic Marlene Dietrich to take care of, as they try to get to safety.

    It's not a particularly original script, but the handling suggests that director Jacques Feyder and cameraman Harry Stradling had seen both the MGM A TALE OF TWO CITIES and THE SCARLET EMPRESS; there are plenty of touches that suggest both. Add in two performers acting a a hot storm, and a lovely small turn by John Clements as a sentimental Bolshevik, and you have a movie that perhaps should have done better. I suppose the problem was that Alexander Korda overspent on it, and it shows in occasional bloat.
  • James Hilton wrote six novels between 1933 and 1945, all of which were filmed. Producer Alexander Korda typically has spared no expense in bringing the first of these to the screen and has utilised the services of director Jacques Feyder, production designer Lazare Meerson, cinematographer Harry Stradling and composer Miklos Rozsa. Star Marlene Dietrich is no small item either. The film did well but not enough to cover the costs and one is hardly surprised to learn of Korda's ongoing accountancy problems!

    On paper Miss Dietrich and Robert Donat would not seem the ideal combination but they are marvellous together and the chemistry is palpable. She certainly had the knack of blending in with her male co-stars, especially if she liked them! He is at the height of his powers here but plagued alas by the accursed asthma that would limit his career.

    Dietrich plays Countess Alexandra Adraxine who has the most miraculously good luck. Whenever she is threatened with extinction by the beastly Bolsheviks someone, male, of course, comes along to save her skin. In fact one love-struck officer kills himself so as to offer her a means of escape. She also manages, amid the carnage, to wangle a bath and a bar of soap. Donat, formerly Fothergill, now Uranov, is her guardian angel and the 'knight' of the title. Whilst being hunted they find time to dally in a forest that the countess had once owned. "Do you like my forest?" she asks. "I adore it" he replies. Would that have passed the American Production Code I wonder?!

    Some of the performances by the English supporting cast leave a lot to be desired but the good ones come through notably Miles Malleson and Raymond Huntley. There is a truly surreal episode at the railway station in which an unusually restrained Hay Petrie plays a stationmaster. It is John Clements who gives a standout performance as Poushkoff. His scenes with Donat and Dietrich are tremendous and well written.

    The crowd scenes are stunning and the wholesale slaughter serves to remind us that when something unpleasant is overthrown it is invariably replaced by something even worse.

    The final scene is too rushed to be satisfying but is to be expected as the film's original cut lasted four hours.

    Special mention must be made of Jacques Feyder. By the time he made this his best films were behind him with nothing better to come but here his unique visual style marks him out as one of the great 'auteurs'. By referring to himself as 'merely an artisan in a big industry' he was doing himself a great disservice. At his best he was a superlative practitioner of the seventh art and this film, despite its rather preposterous plot, is no exception.
  • Now you've got to keep an eye on the plot in this little espionage/counter espionage thriller as Robert Donat is a Brit sent to spy on the Bolsheviks and gets caught up in all sorts of shenanigans that ends him up in Siberia until 1917 when, amidst all the chaos he alights upon the beautiful Countess (Marlene Dietrich) and both have to try and get the hell out of a rapidly imploding Russia. The two stars gel quite well, once they start sharing scenes together and although the story follows a pretty well trodden path, the two with a few familiar faces from British cinema (John Clements, Irene Vanbrugh and a rather good, drunken, Miles Malleson) manage to keep this slightly over-long escape story going. Harry Stradling's photography re-creates well the coldness of the Russian climate (from Buckinghamshire!) and the eeriness and devastation of a messy, brutal revolution and Lajos Biró's adaptation of the novel keeps pretty much to the plot.
  • Fothergill (Robert Donat) is an Englishman working as a translator in pre-WWI Russia. When he loses his job he is asked by the British government to work as a spy which of course comes with risks. Mistaken for a terrorist in an attack against the Tsarist General Vladinoff (Herbert Lomas) he spends the entire WWI as a prisoner in Siberia. When the Russian Revolution comes and with the end of WWI he is released by the Communists and becomes a Commisar. His life is further endangered when he helps a Countess Alexandra (Marlene Dietrich) escape execution at the hands of the Communists and eventually falls in love with her.

    Epic scale Revolutionary set story based off a novel byJames Hilton that has the pretensions of Boris Pasternak's 'Dr Zhivago'. The film enhances Dietrich's role as she was the key selling point of the film, but this war time set romancer parallels and equals anything coming out of Hollywood at the time. The big production values are driven by producer Alexander Korda, with Frenchman Jacques Feyder directing and some superb camerawork by Harry Stradling, Bernard Browne and Jack Cardiff given the film a great look.
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