27 April 2003 | jandesimpson
One of the better British films of the 'thirties
"The Citadel" is one of those circular morality fables - idealistic young man sets out full of good intentions to put the world to right, but, finding his dreams dashed by prejudice and ignorance, throws in his lot with the protection of an easy but dishonest life only to realise the error of his ways through personal tragedy with consequent redemption. A;though stylistically and culturally a world apart, it is thematically a precursor of Mizoguchi's "Sansho Dayu". Made in great Britain in 1938, its MGM backing certainly shows in higher production values than most home grown films of the period - and this in spite of much reliance on back projection of the sort that even the great Carol Reed could not always effectively disguise. One of Hollywood's top directors, King Vidor, invests it with visual quality and, in a part that could have been tailored for Greer Garson, Rosalind Russell makes a surprisingly convincing female lead, supporting the hero throughout his tribulations with every ounce of Garsonian understanding he needs. But it is Robert Donat as the idealistic doctor, who first tries his professional hand in the dark Welsh colliery valley, that is the film's greatest strength. Here was an actor who brought a sense of dignity and integrity to every role he undertook from the earliest Richard Hannay to the Chinese nobleman in "The Inn of the Sixth Happiness" which he was brave enough to play when he was literally gasping for breath. His performance in "The Citadel" is not entirely free from cliché but I imagine this was something imposed by the conventions of the period. How else to explain that when he becomes mean and mercenary he suddenly sports a very short and unsympathetic moustache which, if memory serves me right, miraculously disappears for the final scene of redemption. For the rest there is a galaxy of British acting talent to be found among the supporting roles with a brief glimpse of the dignified Nora Swinburne and a few more of a youthful Francis L. Sullivan doing his obese bigot stuff with rather less brains than usual. And as if this was not all, there is "Sexy Rexy" Harrison gracing the Harley Street scene, Cecil Parker playing a particularly odious surgeon who would no doubt be struck off the Medical Register if he were around today and the great Ralph Richardson investing the role of Donat's best friend with just about the right amount of Shakespearean rhetoric that the part will support. All in all a veritable treat provided you suspend just a little bit of disbelief.