25 October 2006 | rsoonsa
An Engrossing Work, Its Background The Dramatic Gouzenko Affair.
The Cold War, ideological but non-military conflict between the Soviet Union and its satellite states aligned against disparate values represented by the United States with its allies, greatly affected the entire civilized world, and is generally dated from 1947 through the downfall of the U.S.S.R. at the end of 1991, but its origin is probably the Igor Gouzenko Affair that startled the West in September of 1945 when Gouzenko, a cipher clerk assigned to the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa, defected to the Canadian government, therewith exposing the intentions of the Russians to steal nuclear weapons data from host Canada and also from the neighbouring United States. Gouzenko, along with his wife and children, finds that a middle class pseudonymous existence somewhere in Canada is far more pleasant than would be a return to their Motherland, as his diverting memoirs plainly recount, but Soviet intelligence agents do not cease in their endeavours to locate and silence him, and that is the basis for the plot of this very well-made film that provides a strong feeling of suspense to a viewer. Because virtually no verifiable information is on hand for the depiction of actual events in Gouzenko's life subsequent to his defection, a requisite fictional narrative is skillfully created for this film by Paul Monash, and production values are high for a film with rather limited funding, originally slated to have tandem showings in theatres and for television. The storyline tells of an effort by the head of the Russian spy structure within Canada, Colonel Rostovich (Will Kuluva), to determine the whereabouts of Gouzenko, by contacting his publisher through operative Volov (Jacques Aubuchon), imported from the U.S.S.R. specifically to continue the search for an elusive Gouzenko in order to eliminate him. Volov writes a letter to Gouzenko telling of his admiration for Igor's actions and moral judgement, and additionally of a desire to follow him by fleeing into Canadian hands. Gouzenko, despite the considered skeptical opinion of his publisher and others, in addition to his own misgivings, agrees to see Volov and the tension is palpable as their meeting time nears. A note of realism is struck early on within the film and nearly every frame demonstrates careful attention to detail in a satisfyingly paced work that was initially planned as a quasi-documentary, and there is footage of a hooded Gouzenko proselytizing for the benefit of the camera's eye at the picture's conclusion, but extremely accurate production design, location shooting at actual sites of the historic incidents in and near Montreal, along with outstanding contributions from cast and crew have converted the piece into a superior thriller of the Espionage genre. A viewer might not wish for more from the players as all are adept, with acting laurels here going to Aubuchon for his ably layered performance; renowned European director of photography Ákos Farkas is inventive in his wonted realistic style from the opening scenes; and a felicitous score from English cinema organist Sidney Torch is transposed into an effective descriptive orchestral format by Jack Shaindlin, and incisively edited by Kenneth Hawk. Mackinac Media has completed a singularly fine transfer with this 2006 DVD high-definition mastering of the scarcely known 1954 United Artists original. Both the visuals and the monaural sound are impressively crystalline. Bonus features for the DVD package include the original theatrical trailer, pressbox stills, and informative pressbook facts relevant to the dramatic Igor Gouzenko Affair. Although the 1948 film THE IRON CURTAIN, featuring Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney as Gouzenko and his wife, is a splendid achievement, clearly benefiting from an ample Twentieth Century-Fox budget, OPERATION MANHUNT has its components organized in top-flight fashion, jelling as it proceeds to become an uncommonly well-crafted masterpiece of espionage flavoured suspense.