Sunday, March 18, 2007


A Hollywood version of Jules Verne's adventure tale "Michael Strogoff" which uses of lots of footage from a German movie based on the same book, made the year before with the same leading man. Anton Walbrook, best known as the ballet impresario in THE RED SHOES, plays Strogoff, the soldier of the title, who is employed by Tsar Alexander II as a courier to relay important military plans to troops in Omsk who are under siege by the Tartars. He travels undercover by train where he gets tangled up with two women, one a spy (Margot Grahame) and the other a more traditional love interest (Elizabeth Allan). Also present are two bumbling reporters (Eric Blore and Edward Brophy) who wander in and out of the narrative. The particularly nasty villain is Tartar chieftain Akim Tamiroff, who gets to chew lots of scenery, especially in a scene in which he tortures Walbrook. Fay Bainter is Walbrook's mother, who lives in a village en route to Omsk. He hasn't seen her in years, but he is instructed to ignore her for the sake of his mission. At one point, she recognizes him and almost gives the game away. Bainter and Grahame are quite fine; Allan has little to do, but looks nice; despite the presence of Blore, the comic relief is tiresome. Most of the battle scenes are from the German film, known in English as THE CZAR'S COURIER, and the disconnect between those impressive, interestingly photographed scenes and the more mundane RKO shots is jarring at times. If I'm not mistaken, the Borodin melody used as the basis for the Kismet song "Stranger in Paradise" provides the backdrop for a brief dance number. The movie drags at times, but the plot twists of the last half hour are worth sticking around for. [TCM]

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