Thursday, February 02, 2006


[Spoilers follow!!!] For its time, this must have been an interesting attempt to combine recent history with romance, but it doesn't really hold up now. I suppose one reason that I found it lacking was that it kept reminding me two much better films, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO and REDS. Leslie Howard is a British diplomat who is on his way to Moscow in 1917 during the tumultuous days of the Russian Revolution. The main concern of the British is that the revolutionaries will pull the Russian troops out of the war against Germany. On a stopover in St. Petersburg, Howard attends a party at the British Embassy which is marred (in a scene echoed in ZHIVAGO) when troops and marching masses collide in the streets. Howard comes to the aid of Kay Francis, who is being hunted for shooting a soldier, and the two hit it off. Later, when Lenin is swept into power, the British close the embassy, leaving only Howard and a few diplomat buddies to sit around drinking and playing poker. Francis, now an important person with the Bolsheviks, returns and flirts with Howard, but when she overhears Howard decode a message that asks him to take on an unofficial "Mission: Impossible" task to influence the current government to stay in the war, she betrays him by telling her bosses. After Lenin is shot and falls into a coma and the government does indeed pull the troops, Howard goes underground to help rebuild the White Army. Francis finds out and is torn in her loyalties. Eventually, she rats on Howard, but when she learns his that the garret where he's hiding is marked for destruction, she goes to him to await certain death. At the last minute, they are saved when Lenin comes out of his coma and pardons all political enemies. The actors are fine; I think they are let down by the script which tries to cover too much in too short a time. The idea of mixing the tumult of the Revolution with personal romance worked better many years later in REDS. I especially liked William Gargan, Philip Reed, and Cesar Romero as the trio of diplomats who hang out with Howard. Ivan Simpson has a nice bit as a loyal butler at the British Embassy. The ending, in which a grim situation suddenly just vanishes and our couple is free to leave for England and a new life together, is a little hard to swallow. [TCM]

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